Tiffany Webb thought her past as a lingerie model more than 17 years ago was behind her, but those racy photos caught up to her. Webb's attorney Stewart Karlin says the New York State Department of Education terminated Webb's employment from Murry Bergtraum High School last year, because scantily clad photos of her are still on the Internet.
The New York Post has the photos that allegedly got Webb fired from her job as a school guidance counselor. Webb, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, says she disclosed her lingerie modeling when she was hired and is now suing the Department of Education for wrongful termination, sex discrimination and violation of her First Amendment rights.
Webb's situation brings up a lot of questions about how you can protect yourself.
Gloria Allred is one of the most famous employment attorneys in the nation today. Allred says the sad truth is that most employees can be fired for any reason, as long as it's not discriminatory.
"Often employees have less rights than they think they do, less protection," said Allred. "Most states are what we call "at will" employment states, and an employer in those states can terminate an employee, who is not under a contract, due to activities the employee may have been involved in their past. They cannot discriminate based on race or gender or age or religion, and in some states, sexual orientation. So, they do have to apply their rules equally."
Contracted employees and government workers such as teachers may have more protections than an "at will" employee, but Allred says those protections are not absolute.
"It varies state by state. and it varies based on if a teacher is tenured or not. Tenured teachers may posses a property right in continued employment and so they have a vested right to permanent employment. Often there are clauses that may constitute grounds for termination even though they were tenured," said Allred.
Webb's attorney says his client was fired just days before she was to be granted tenure. So what can employees do to prevent something like this? "If they fail to disclose, if they are asked point-blank and they fail to disclose, or mislead, then later if the employer finds out, it may be a basis for terminating the employment; especially if they're at will. If they have disclosed, and are nevertheless hired, it still depends on whether the employee is "at will" or whether or not there's a contract or collective bargaining agreement in place," said Allred.
Allred says the key is to avoid behavior you may regret later in life. "Don't do anything that you would not want to be presented with in a court of law years later. In other words, don't do anything that you might wish later that you had never done because it could have a negative impact on you economically, socially, politically emotionally, or in any way," said Allred.
If you ever find yourself fired for reasons you don't agree with, Allred says it never hurts to consult with an attorney.
"My advice is: if you are terminated and you think it might be wrong that you were terminated, do go to attorney no matter who you are. Try to seek the advice of an attorney. You may have rights, or you may find out you don't. If you have a question in your mind, you think it was wrong, at least go seek the advice of an attorney and find out if you do have any rights, and if so, if they are worth pursuing or not," said Allred.