Public Worker Keeps Job after Explicit Email Scandal

October 17, 2007 ( - The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is prohibited from firing a senior highway maintenance manager who circulated e-mail containing nudity.

In barring the termination of Charles Webb, a supervisor making $84,000 a year, the court sided with the finding of the state Civil Service Commission, which found that it would be inappropriate to fire Webb, even though he admitted to forwarding sexually explicit, salacious and off-color e-mails, according to the opinion.

The e-mails included jokes about male sexual organs, videos of stuffed animals simulating sex, a Microsoft Word document titled “The Benefits of Sex,” and a series of photographs (sent to his male subordinates) of women with their breasts exposed or skirts lifted up.

Webb was caught by an anonymous tip to the department’s tip line, which said he was circulating “derogatory” e-mail messages, at which point the technology department began to monitor his e-mail.

Webb defended his actions at a March 2006 hearing by saying that his activities were a way to boost morale and relieve stress. He was fired a month later for violating a 2003 policy that he signed against engaging in such practices.

Webb appealed his termination to the Pennsylvania State Civil Service Commission, which said it would be inappropriate to fire him and ordered for him to be reinstated, but demoted to assistant highway maintenance manager without back pay.

Both sides appealed the ruling to Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court, which said he would get his old job back, minus a one-level demotion.

According to the court’s opinion,the department “essentially requests this Court to substitute its judgment for that of the Commission and find that the videos and e-mails at issue rise to a level that is either sexually suggestive, obscene or pornographic. As Webb points out, Pennsylvania’s appellate courts are not free to invoke a generalized concept of reasonableness to justify substituting their judgment for that of an agency.”

The court agreed with the punishment of the commission, that Webb would be demoted and not be entitled to back pay, but would keep his job.

The Commonwealth Court opinion is here .