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Settlement Reached In Conn. Facebook Firing Case

EAST HAVEN, Conn. (CBS 2) -- Complaining about the boss on Facebook changed a woman's life – she was fired for it – but in the end, it was determined that the company was in the wrong.

When Dawnmarie Souza complained about her boss on Facebook, she never thought she's be fired for it.

It all started when the paramedic from East Haven, Connecticut was suspended from work. She went online to complain.

"I did log on and made a simple comment – I had a couple of days off," she said.

Her post went a bit further than that. She wrote: "Looks like I'm getting some time off. Love how the company allows a 17 to be a supervisor."

A "17" is code for a psychiatric patient. After colleagues joined in the discussion, Souza twice referred to her supervisor in more derogatory terms.

"The union kept telling me, 'you've done nothing wrong, don't worry about it, we're going to get this worked out,'" Souza said. "Then I got a FedEx letter that I was terminated."

In her termination letter, the ambulance company – AMR – pointed to her Internet posting.

"Such disparaging comments on Facebook is also a violation of the company's blogging and Internet posting policy," the letter said.

"I had no idea I wouldn't be going back," Souza said.

Her case got the attention of the National Labor Relations Board. In November, the board found that the "ambulance service illegally terminated" Souza.

"If they are communicating about the workplace, and they're talking about their supervisors, then it's a protected activity," law professor Paul Callan said.

After the board's ruling, Souza and AMR reached a settlement this week. AMR's lawyer said the firm is pleased that the case is behind them.

"Basically, in exchange for back pay, the company can ensure that Ms. Souza never works for the company again, and the company is very happy with that result," attorney John Barr said.

Souza, though, thinks hers is the real victory.

"I do have a freedom of speech and that is my right, that is everybody's right here – and that is what was being tested," she said.

Souza's case is considered precedent-setting for cases involving protected speech about employers.

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