Francesca Holding's CFO Fired For Loose Lips In Social Media

Gene Morphis Gene Morphis was active in social media and forged a frank, sassy persona online despite, at 62, not fitting the stereotype of a Facebook user. While working as the chief financial officer at Francesca Holdings, a boutique women's clothing and accessories company, Morphis recently posted the following update on his public Facebook page: "young women in [the] office dressed alike with red lipstick ... look like the clone girls in the Robert Palmer video, [Addicted to Love]."

The post received five "likes," and positive comments from eight of his 107 friends, including a post saying, "Too Funny!"

But the chairman of the board of the Houston-based company, Greg Brenneman, apparently was not as amused by Morphis' social media banter. On Monday, the company announced that Morphis (pictured at left) was fired over the weekend, after an internal review of his social media accounts was completed.

It's believed to be the first time that a top executive has been fired for social media usage. "Everyone thinks it's going to be a 22-year-old that's going to get the company in trouble," says Sree Sreenivasan, a social media professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. "But the ability to talk directly to customers can backfire, and that's especially true at the top."

Exactly what did the CFO say that the company found objectionable? After a March 9 meeting with the company's "audit committee," he wrote, also on Facebook, "Damn you Paul Sarbanes! Damn you Michael Oxley!" (The two congressmen are the co-authors of the 2002 financial regulatory law that bears their names.) And a report from Barron's noted that on March 7, six days before earnings information from the first quarter was scheduled to be released, there was a tweet from Morphis' handle, @theoldcfo, saying: "Board meeting. Good numbers=Happy Board." While technically it's not automatically illegal to disclose such information before the release of a report, CFOs are generally expected to remain tight-lipped about such matters.

Neither Morphis nor the company, which has Aeropostale and Urban Outfitters as its rivals, responded to requests for comment from AOL Jobs. The company did, however, release the following cryptic statement from Brenneman:

"Francesca's has delivered consistent, high-quality results for customers and public investors. We are disappointed by this situation but we expect our executives to comply with all Company policies. We acted immediately on Friday afternoon when we first became aware of the matter and have moved swiftly to replace Mr. Morphis based on the findings of the investigation."

The Social Media Hot Seat

Firings over employees' social media indiscretions are nothing new. Those who have lost their jobs over social media posts have also often lost their legal battles to reclaim them. In October 2011, teacher Ashley Payne lost her wrongful termination suit in Georgia Superior Court over Apalachee High School's decision to fire her after pictures surfaced on Facebook of her drinking beer in a European pub. And earlier this month in Virginia, employees of the Hampton County Sheriff's Office lost a challenge to their dismissal for just "liking" the fan page of a political opponent of their boss, Sheriff B.J. Roberts.

Morphis is an avid social media user. Along with his presence on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, Morphis also has a personal website, which directs you to his blog. His most recent blog post, dated April 19, ran under the title, "Can America Be Saved?," and reads like a conservative screed about the country's "real issue," which he says is "accumulated debt." This was not his first run as a "C-level" executive, either; he was the CFO at David's Bridal from 2006 to 2010, according to Forbes.

He last posted on Facebook on May 5, when he marked his birthday. He also last appeared on Twitter on Friday, when he retweeted @ReformedBroker's message about placing bets on Harlem Globetrotters to his 196 followers. In his use of Twitter he joined other top-level executives who've chosen to go social, notes the Houston Business Journal.

Indeed, the experts interviewed for this article said the incident drove home the care that all employees must give to their social media accounts.

"We live in the age of corporate ambassadors," says Dan Schawbel, the managing partner of Millennium Branding. "It's part of the move toward total transparency, where everyone has a microphone. And so executives will be called on to set the example."

Common sense should be enough to guide all social media users as to what's appropriate, Schawbel says. "Everyone should also add disclaimers their pages saying their views do not represent their company." (Morphis had no such disclaimer on his Twitter handle.)

For its part, Francesca seemed to be rebounding well from the incident. Company shares climbed 5 percent to $25.25 in pre-market trading Monday morning.

Meanwhile, the usually expressive Morphis had yet to take to social media to comment on his ouster.

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