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Wrong to sack principal over 'lewd' Facebook pics: Swedish court

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Wrong to sack principal over 'lewd' Facebook pics: Swedish court
14:18 CEST+02:00
A Swedish court has ruled that a school was unjustified in sacking its principal after he joined a number of sexually themed groups on Facebook and published half-naked pictures of himself on the popular social networking site.

“They said ‘we can't make allowances for your personal life, we have to think of our brand,'" 55-year-old Anders Karlsson told Sveriges Radio (SR).

In 2009, Karlsson lost his job as headmaster of Norrlands Entreprenörsgymnasium, an independent school associated with a public sector business development organisation in Luleå, after employers found out about some of his activities on the Facebook social networking site.

There he had chosen to post pictures of himself in sexually suggestive poses and was a member of groups with names like “Multiple orgasms”, “Vi som är sexgalna” (‘Sex maniacs like us'), and “All sexy bikinis 4U”.

The revelations came to light on the nyheter24.se news website, resulting in an emergency meeting of the school's board.

The fact that the school's top official and most prominent public face freely associated with at least one Facebook group that featured links to pornographic websites and had published compromising pictures of himself which could be seen by students, didn't sit well with the board.

The board decided to ask for Karlsson's resignation, saying he had “had a lapse in judgment”.

“Karlsson's views on what someone is allowed to do as a private individual differ from the opinion of the board,” the school's CEO Majvor Müller said in a statement at the time.

Speaking at a press conference Müller emphasized that Karlsson hadn't broken any laws.

“But he is the students' ambassador and a role model. There's a moral and ethical limit when someone works with young people,” the Norrländska Socialdemokraten newspaper reported her as saying.

But Karlsson felt badly treated by employers for something that “practically everyone on Facebook does”, he said to Aftonbladet at the time.

And in local paper Norrländska Socialdemokraten he was reported saying that he didn't think he'd done anything wrong, nor did he feel there was any shame in speaking openly about sex.

“I think sex is a natural and joyous part of life and don't see any reason to try to hide that,” he said.

“Unfortunately, it seems to be unacceptable for a principal to have a normal, healthy sex life.”

Karlsson refused to go willingly and was subsequently dismissed by the school.

But on Thursday, after a two year legal battle, it became clear that the Luleå District Court agreed with Karlsson that his internet activities were conducted in his own free time and weren't aimed at damaging the school's reputation.

The court therefore ruled that Karlsson's dismissal was unfair and that the school will have to pay him damages of 38,000 kronor ($5,900) per month for the period between November 2009 and May 2011 as well as a general sum of 100,000 kronor.

According to Aftonbladet, the court also said that the school failed to conduct a proper investigation into the claims and instead acted mainly on media accounts.

The fear that the school's reputation would suffer was put before the best interest of their employee, the court said.

On two previous occasions a Swedish court has looked into employees' social media activities and ruled in favour of the employers.

In both previous cases the it was statements made in the personal blogs of employees of the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) and embassy staff which were the cause for dismissal.

This was the first trial in Sweden that assessed an individual's Facebook habits.

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