Carryn Owens, whose husband, Navy SEAL Willian Owens, was killed during a raid in Yemen, attended President Trump’s speech to Congress on February 28th. We’ve all seen the very moving photo of her crying as Trump acknowledged her.
According to an article in the Chicago Tribune today, Daniel Grilo, who was a principal at Liberty Advisor Group at the time, was watching the speech and tweeted, “Sorry Owens’ wife, you’re not helping yourself or your husband’s memory by standing there and clapping like an idiot. Trump just used you.”
That tweet went viral and sparked a firestorm of comments on Twitter and other social networks defending Ms. Owens. Within a few minutes Grilo apologized several times and eventually deleted his tweet.
However, despite his apologies, Liberty Advisor Group fired Grilo and deleted his profile from their website. The company also issued a statement on their website stating, “The individual who issued the tweet is no longer affiliated with Liberty. … His comments were inconsistent with the Company’s values and the unyielding respect it has for the members of our Nation’s Armed Forces.”
This situation opens up a lot of serious questions. Was the company right in firing Grilo? Are personal social media posts protected especially when the post is not related to a person’s employer?
Perhaps the biggest question is: Does Grilo have a case against his former employer? Yes, he may, according to Phillip Schreiber, a partner in the law firm Holland & Knight who represents management in employment cases.
According to Schreiber, “Generally speaking, what people say on social media that is not related to their employer usually is not a concern of the employer. But if someone who is newsworthy makes an inflammatory post on social media, it’s not difficult for someone to track that person back to his or her employer,” he added. “That’s when you may have consequences.”
“The question is … if an employee is terminated for what he or she put on Twitter on his or her own time … is terminating someone because of that a violation of Illinois’ Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act,” Schreiber said. “That remains to be determined, because there are not a lot of court decisions interpreting the law in that context.”
Failure to follow local and national laws relating to social media can land a company in court. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) generally protects employees and their private social media posts. However, there is plenty of legal information to be had from social media and there is a right way to use it.
We have to wait and see what Grilo’s next move is. If he decides to sue Liberty Advisor Group, it will be an interesting case. We will definitely follow this story and keep you abreast of the decision.