A St. Louis single mom was fired from her job when her employers discovered her sex blog. They said they were concerned about bad press — but did they really just disapprove of her lifestyle?
According to Tom Finkel of The Riverfront Times, 37-year-old blogger and mom The Beautiful Kind was happily employed doing part-time office work for a nonprofit organization, and hoped she would soon go full-time. Instead, a "Twitter glitch" led her boss to her blog, which included a sex-advice column, porn reviews, and descriptions of TBK's own sex life (she's since taken down most of the content). From an April 23 post, still available in cached form:
Here's what's coming up! 1. This week I'm having my first colonic, as well as my first pussy modeling session (but not at the same time) 2. Next week I'll be sharing one of the hottest moments of my life. It will come at you in three smokin' parts.
As for how TBK was outed? She explained to us in an email that she had originally signed up for a Twitter account under her real name, then quickly changed it when she saw it showed up on her profile. However, Twitter apparently saved the name, and "third party social media search engines such as Topsy crawled and found this glitch and spread it around the internet." The result: when her boss Googled her last week, he found her blog, although the blog itself never listed her name (and, she notes, "two weeks ago, doing that same search yielded nothing incriminating"). She soon received a letter stating,
We simply cannot risk any possible link between our mission and the sort of photos and material that you openly share with the online public. While I know you are a good worker and an intelligent person, I hope you try to understand that our employees are held to a different standard. When it comes to private matters, such as one's sexual explorations and preferences, our employees must keep their affairs private.
But did her boss really fear bad PR, or was he just icked out by the content of her site? Tony Rothert, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, tells The Riverfront Times that the company could have assuaged its PR worries by simply asking that TBK take down her blog. He says, "The fact that they didn't do that and instead just fired her causes one to believe that it really is the content that they had a problem with, and not really that they were concerned about a connection between her blog and the employer being made in the public." He adds,
One of the unfortunate things is that a lot of people are uncomfortable about unconventional sexuality, especially when a woman's involved. That is not an employer's job — to police the sexual lives of its employees — and when an employer discriminates on that basis it is sex discrimination and it's against the law.
TBK won't be pursuing legal action at this time — she tells us, "Despite many people thinking I should, I don't think it would be a good use of time or energy to pursue legal recourse. I live in an at-will employment state, so you can get fired for anything." However, as her webmaster writes on her blog, her situation brings up "deeper issues." The webmaster continues, "I think Googling someone is not that different than rummaging through their personal things or stalker behavior" — but for better or worse, Internet searching has become so ubiquitous it now seems impossible to stamp out. What is possible: normalizing blogging so it's no longer a firing offense.
Everyone from trade journalists to concerned moms cautions about the potential career pitfalls of a personal blog, but as TBK points out, neither her blog nor her sex life were harming her job performance, nor was she writing about her job on her blog (the two were mutually exclusive). As social media become more widespread, and micro-blogging platforms make ever more people into content creators, it would be nice to see a paradigm shift: rather than guilting and scaring employees into obsessive self-Googling and online trail-covering, couldn't employers just decide not to be embarrassed by people's inconsequential online actions? And rather than telling people never to write about their sex lives, maybe we could just agree that those sex lives aren't shameful? TBK's employer notwithstanding, we may be moving in that direction already. The popularity of online confessional writing has led to more than one book deal, and writing about one's own life can be a career-maker as much as it's a career-killer. In a guest post on aagblog, TBK asks,