Blog sacking sparks test case

Kathryn Moore

IT is a situation of which Bridget Jones herself would be proud – a young mother gets the sack for writing an online blog about life as a secretary in Paris.

But the employers of the 33-year-old Yorkshirewoman have failed to see the funny side of her Internet diary, and now she is bringing a test case in France for unfair dismissal that could have implications for bloggers across Europe.

The woman at the centre of the row uses only her first name, Catherine, to protect her daughter’s identity, but she is better known to thousands who read her diary as La Petite Anglaise, and her blog mocks her boss’s “plummy Oxbridge accent”, and describes afternoons where she left the office under false pretences to meet a boyfriend in a hotel.

Catherine, born in Bradford and brought up in York, was a secretary in the Paris office of British accountancy firm Dixon Wilson. She was dismissed by the company after it argued that by publishing pictures of herself on the site, she made herself and the firm identifiable.

The firm also said that she worked on her blog during office hours, a fact she does not deny. Her claim for unfair dismissal, one of the first of its kind in France, could define the blurred boundaries between personal and professional activities.

She said: “There are people in my office who bring books to work to read when it is quiet and my boss gave me his password to access crosswords online which I could do at my desk. I did not think what I was doing was too far removed from other use of the internet which was being tolerated.”

Catherine moved to Paris ten years ago, and she set up her blog in 2002. It is now read by up to 3,000 people a day. The site details her life as a single mother and her general musings on everyday life.

In one entry she describes an incident at the office Christmas party where a fellow colleague breaks the unwritten rule of pulling his cracker before the senior partner and his wife have had chance to pull one.

She also makes reference to a series of other incidents at work including comments about the senior partner, his “old school” manner, and his habit of referring to secretaries as typists.

What she does not do at any time is refer to her place of work or any of her colleagues by name.

“I have been through all kinds of emotions during this. I have thought why did I write it at work, which I hardly ever did, and how could I have been so stupid. Then I feel very angry. It was very sudden and brutal when they asked me to leave and they were fully aware that I am a single mother in the process of buying an apartment.” A handful of her colleagues at the office knew about her blog, but she did not share the information with her employers.

“My main reason for keeping it quiet was that I did not want my boss to know all about my private life - I did not think it would be very healthy. ”

If successful the case could have implications for bloggers across Europe.

She added: “This is not about the money it is more about the principal.

“I think my company were very harsh and this is also a matter of not letting them get away with it.

Dixon Wilson refused to comment.