We can all relate to the embarrassment of hitting “reply all” on an email only intended for a smaller audience. Although usually “replying all” just results in embarrassment that eventually subsides, sometimes it can lead to more severe actions, such as losing your job.
Frith Malin worked as a deputy director at the Orleans Parrish Communications District (“OPCD”), which was responsible for providing 911 services. After she had worked there for eight years, the executive director of the OPCD emailed all employees to inform them one of OPCD’s board members had been named CEO of another organization so that he would be stepping down from OPCD’s board. Malin accidentally hit “reply all,” instead of emailing just OPCD’s executive director criticisms about the departing board member.
Three days later, Malin was suspended. OPCD conducted an internal investigation, which led to Malin’s eventual termination. A few months before sending the email, Malin had reported the Human Resources manager who investigated commentary related to sexually explicit images on six different occasions. There was no evidence Hobson was aware Malin had reported her, and Hobson was never disciplined. Following her termination, Malin filed a lawsuit against OPCD under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming a violation of her First Amendment rights. She also brought claims under Title VII and La. R.S. 23:967, Louisiana’s whistleblower statute. She alleged OPCD had retaliated against her for reporting the Human Resources manager. OPCD filed a motion to dismiss, which the trial court granted. Malin appealed, arguing the trial court erred in dismissing her claims against OPCD.
The appellate court agreed with the trial court’s finding Malin was not protected by the First Amendment because she sent the email critical of the departing board member as a public employee, not a citizen. There was no evidence Malin had tried to send the email or its message beyond her workplace. Malin herself testified the email was only intended for one person – OPCD’s executive director. Further, the content of the email critical of the board member was not a matter of public concern. The contents of her email would not have provided the public with any information besides the fact she was upset with the departing board member.
The appellate court also agreed with the trial court’s dismissal of Malin’s claims under Title VII because a reasonable person would not find that the manager’s commentary created a sexually hostile work environment as they did not appear severe or seem pervasive. Because Louisiana’s whistleblower statute relies on federal law related to hostile-work-environment claims, because Malin failed to state a claim under Title VII, dismissing her claim under the Louisiana whistleblower statute was also appropriate.
If you think you have been wrongfully terminated from your job, consult an experienced attorney who can advise you on possible legal claims and what evidence is needed to support your claims. And remember, it is always a good idea to double-check before unintentionally “replying all” to an email.
Additional Sources: Frith Malin v. Orleans Parish Communications District
Article Written By Berniard Law Firm
Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Section 1983 Lawsuits: Navigating Unfair Termination as a Civil Service Employee: Understanding the Appeals Process