Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Last week, the Times of Trenton reported on Canella v. Conair Corp., a decision handed down by the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, last Christmas Eve. The Times of Trenton article focuses on the fact that Canella was fired for abuse of company e-mail. It's not as if plaintiff was running a smuggling ring from her desktop. The "abuse" apparently consisted of correspondence with a former employee of the same company, and so the article serves as a warning to unsuspecting employees that they ought to be more mindful of their use of work e-mail for non-work purposes.
I was surprised that Canella's conduct led to her termination, so I looked up the case to see if there was something more going on. The full opinion can be found here. I was immediately struck by the fact that Canella was fired nearly ten years ago. The court found that she was an at-will employee and that she had knowingly engaged in violations of the firm's employee handbook and so could have been terminated lawfully even if she were not at-will. So, why did it take ten years to sort this out?
The opinion is not quite so opaque as the Times of Trenton article but it too is not crystal clear. It seems that Canella's correspondence was with her ex-lover, who is also a woman. In the e-mail that triggered her termination, Canella addressed her former partner as "one arrogant, cold, cruel bitch," which has a certain literary appeal to it. Canella likely suspected that she was singled out not because she was carrying on a private correspondence on work e-mail (who hasn't done that?) but because she had been in a lesbian relationship with a co-worker. The opinion indicates that her complaint originally included a dscrimination claim but that claim was time-barred. She was left with a very weak argument that Conair violated a clear public policy mandate by failing to insure the safety of employees in the workplace. The court had no trouble dismissing that claim.