Fired from her job at Delta Air Lines, former flight attendant Ellen Simonetti warns against the spread of "employer blog backlash."
My name is Ellen Simonetti, but I am better known to Web surfers as the Queen of Sky.
I had been a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines for almost eight years when I started my blog, or online diary, in January of this year. I entitled it "Diary of a Flight Attendant."
On Saturday, Sept. 25, I came home to flashing messages on my answering machine.
"Ellen, I need you to call me back. It's about your trip tomorrow," repeated the urgent-sounding voice on the tape.
The voice was that of a Delta Air Lines in-flight supervisor. I immediately dialed the number on the messages, thinking perhaps my Rome flight the next day had been cancelled. What the supervisor told me, however, left me shocked and sick to my stomach.
"You won't be able to fly your trip tomorrow...it's about some pictures on the Web."
I had to wait more than a week after that phone call to meet with Delta management and find out exactly what was going on. During that very long week, I lived in suspense in my humble Austin, Texas, apartment and prepared for the worst. I assumed I would be fired, so I started consulting with lawyers and other people.
That was when I began to hear stories about people like Heather B. Armstrong, of dooce.com, who was fired because of her blog in 2002. Then there was "the Washingtonienne," who was fired earlier this year because of comments she entered in her blog.
As my story spread on the Web, I started receiving all kinds of e-mails from people on both sides of the Atlantic that employer blog backlash had gotten to. One, a comedian who wished to remain anonymous, told me she was fired from her day job after making a joke about co-workers on her blog.
The very first thing I did after the phone call from Delta was delete all of the photographs from my blog that I thought my employer could possibly have a problem with. That included all of the pictures of me and fellow crew members posing in Delta Air Lines uniforms.
It was not until the meeting with human resources and my supervisor on Wednesday, Oct. 6, that I learned the official reason for my suspension: "inappropriate" pictures. The unofficial reason (implied through an intimidating interrogation): blogging.
The reason I started my blog in the first place was as a form of therapy. I had lost my mother in September 2003 to cancer and that hit me hard. It was much easier to write about my feelings than talk about them. Now, my employer was telling me that the very thing that had gotten me through those tough times, my blog, could cost me my career. I felt my rights were being infringed upon. And I decided to fight back.
After that meeting, I went home and got online and found plenty of pictures of male Delta Air Lines employees in uniform on the Web. I then searched for a specific company policy prohibiting posting pictures on the Web or blogging, which I could not find.
I had an excellent employment record with Delta Air Lines and had never been previously disciplined. Therefore, I find it odd that I was not at least given a warning before my suspension. I am still trying to figure out why I was singled out. In fact, two days after that meeting with Delta Air Lines management, I filed a sex discrimination complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Delta Air Lines.
Then, on Oct. 29, 2004, three weeks after I filed that discrimination complaint, I received a call from my supervisor. He advised me over the phone that my employment with Delta Air Lines had been terminated due to "inappropriate pictures in uniform on the Web."
I have decided to continue to blog and spread my story about employer blog backlash. If it is to be defeated, we all have to stand up to this silent and arbitrary foe, one that should never again be allowed to rear its ugly head.