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Porn On Work Computer Is Grounds for Firing

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

No more fun time at work I guess but, no more Trojan Virus on the computer either!

A federal appeals court is issuing a clear warning to employees: Violate your employer’s computer-use policy and be fired.

With that in mind, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the firing of a Wisconsin high school biology teacher and union president for viewing thumbnail images of porn for one minute. Robert Zellner, an 11-year teacher, claimed his 2006 termination for typing “blonde” in the Google search bar was in retaliation for his constitutionally protected criticism of his employer.

The ruling is the second in as many weeks granting employers boundless power over their employees’ computer use. A different federal appeals court said employees could be prosecuted under a federal hacking law if they access information on a work computer that they were entitled to, and use that data in a manner violating company policy — such as to set up a competing business.

In the teacher case, the Chicago-based appeals court said Thursday that the Cedarburg School District suspected the Cedarburg Education Association president might have porn on his computer after the biology teacher reported his computer had “gone crazy” in 2005. So the district installed monitoring software on the computer, and found that Zellner had searched “blonde” on Google and terminated him.

“While it is abundantly clear that the relationship between the union and the district was contentious, combative and miserable, and that Zellner and the district played a central role in the relationship, Zellner ignores the discovery of his Nov. 6 Google image search,” the appeals court ruled. “It is undisputed that the search violated the district’s policy, that Zellner admitted that he performed the search, and that he knew he violated the policy. Accordingly, the school board had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason to terminate Zellner’s employment” (.pdf).

Here’s how the court described Zellner’s computer-use violation of November 2005:

First, Zellner disengaged the “safe search” filter. He then typed “blonde” into the Google search box. The search produced 20 “thumbnail” images, all of them pornographic, with links to more images within and outside the Google website. He then clicked to display the next 20 images. Zellner then clicked a link entitled “more of these” adjacent to images from www.ardentes.free.frblonde.com. When Zellner did so, another 20 pornographic “thumbnail” images were displayed on his monitor for a total of 17 seconds. Zellner did not click on any of the photographs displayed in his search. The entire incident took 67 seconds.

The appeals court said that 67 seconds was all that was necessary to be fired. It was unrelated to him being a vocal opponent of the district and making comments in the local press, the court said.

“Zellner violated the district’s policy by viewing pornographic images on his school computer, the violation had nothing to do with his union activities, and the school board found that his violation should result in termination,” a unanimous three-judge panel wrote.

via Court Says Porn on Work Computer Is Grounds for Firing.

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