Investigations

Woman fights back after MySpace firing

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A woman fought back against the restaurant chain she worked for after she and her boyfriend were fired over a private social networking site Web page they created about the company.

Waitress Doreen Marino never doubted the merit of her lawsuit against Houston's, her former employer. Still, she knew she faced great odds in federal court when she decided to take on the national restaurant chain and its team of attorneys.

"I believed that what they did was wrong," she said. "I felt to the core of me that something needs to be done about it."

She and her boyfriend, who worked at Houston's in Hackensack at the time, had started a private MySpace page where fellow workers could sign on using a personal password to rant about the restaurant.

"I was very intent on making sure that it was perfectly private, that nothing was shown publicly," boyfriend Brian Pietrylo said.

Problems began when one of the workers on the site gave a manager the password. She claims it was under pressure, and that she "would have gotten into some kind of trouble" had she refused.

"We didn't expect that we had spying eyes, that we were being monitored," Marino said.

When the manager saw the trash talk about the restaurant on the site, Marino and Pietrylo were fired for violating Houston's "core values of profssionalism and a positive mental attitude."

Marino decided to take a stand. But what she didn't know then is that it was a stand for workers everywhere. She took her case before a jury in federal court. The verdict was that Houston's managers had entered the MySpace site "without authorization" and had acted "maliciously."

"They basically said keep out to an employer who pries into the private online communications of their employees," Marino's attorney, Fred Pisani, said. "Especially when it occurs out of the workplace."

One waitress' battle against a corporation is now likely to set precedence in the legal frontier of cyberspace.

"I'll say to anyone that one person can make a difference," Marino said.

The restaurant chain appealed the verdict, but that appeal was recently denied. Doreen and her boyfriend will receive a couple of thousand dollars in back pay.

If you have a tip about this or any other issue you'd like investigated, please give our tipline a call at 877-TIP-NEWS. You may also e-mail us at the.investigators@abc.com.

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