Lawyer on Supreme Court hunger strike against social media firings

WASHINGTON Thu Jun 5, 2014 4:45pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Reclining on a beach chair outside the U.S. Supreme Court, Delaware lawyer Brian Zulberti doesn't look like a man on a do-or-die mission to transform Internet privacy.

But even as he chats with passersby and taps a laptop, Zulberti, 31, is deep into a hunger strike aimed at keeping people from getting fired for what they post on social media.

Zulberti, who has not eaten since Sunday, said on Thursday he would go without food until he got 90 primetime seconds on a major television network to lay out his case for wide-open social media.

"Nothing less than (CNN anchors) Anderson Cooper or Wolf Blitzer, nothing less. Until I get 90 seconds of that, I die right here. This isn't a game, you know," he said..

Zulberti contends privacy is on its way out and employers need to get used to knowing everything about their workers, the good and bad.

He said people should not be discriminated against because of what they post on social media, such as being fired for putting a picture of themselves having a beer on Facebook or Twitter.

"It happens all the time," he said.

Zulberti created an online stir last year when he sent a job application to every lawyer in Delaware with a photo of himself in a sleeveless T-shirt for his law school alma mater, Villanova University.

After that, his website drew 75,000 hits after revealing photos of him surfaced online. They included one of him in his underwear with a sign that said, "Hire me!!! No ... as a lawyer."

Anne Larson, a labor lawyer with the Ogletree Deakins law firm in Chicago, said many states had laws that barred companies from firing workers for legal activities outside the workplace.

The National Labor Relations Board has found that companies cannot restrict employees from posting social media comments that are part of "concerted protected activity" about their jobs, she said.

But the board has backed companies regulating employees' behavior through policies that bar such online misconduct as discrimination and bullying, even if it is off-duty, Larson said.

Zulberti, who has not worked as a lawyer, said his hunger strike was aimed at drawing attention to a civil rights issue. The demonstration is "not because I can't get a job or am an attention whore," he said.