Man Fights For Employee Adult Site-Viewing Rights

Jeff Berg
ELLWOOD CITY, Penn. — A Beaver County employee who was fired for accessing adult websites from his office has filed a federal lawsuit against the county, claiming that their policies on computer use and his eventual firing violated his First and 14th Amendment Rights.

Richard R. Thompson worked as an aging care manager at the Beaver County Area Agency on Aging, but was fired in November 2003 after his superiors discovered that Thompson had been visiting a swath of adult websites.

According to Thompson’s complaint, his firing, and the county’s computer use policy in general, violates the free speech and due process rights of all county employees.

Thompson is representing himself in the federal lawsuit and seeks to have his job returned to him, as well as retroactive pay, benefits, seniority and pension adjustments.

The former county employee also is seeking to bring the issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court with a second lawsuit brought in state court.

Thompson sought to appeal a State Civil Service Commission ruling that had upheld his firing in the state Commonwealth Court, but the court found that his firing was justified because the county had presented evidence that Thompson’s perusal of adult websites had been affecting his job.

“The Commission credited the Agency’s evidence that during the period from August 2002 through January 2003, Thompson devoted roughly 20 percent of each work day and almost 30 percent of his total work time online [to visiting adult websites,” the court ruled.

During the Commonwealth Court case, Thompson raised a variety of different issues, including the First and 14th Amendment concerns, but the court ruled that any issue not presented before the Commission could not be considered in the court’s decision.

The court said that Thompson only raised two issues that could be considered — that inappropriate Internet use was not specifically referenced in the county’s computer use policy, and that he was entitled to a presumption that his activities in a union partially played into his firing.

The court upheld the firing, but did say they punishment seemed odd.

“The court must observe that based on the nature and lack of severity of Thompson’s infraction, the disciple he received, termination of employment, seems disproportionately harsh,” the court ruled.