Women in Arlington gesture controversy lose their jobs

By GEORGE BRENNAN | Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass. | Published: November 22, 2012

MASHPEE, Mass. — The Facebook photograph of a woman making an obscene gesture at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia has cost the two employees who are responsible for it their jobs.

The women at the center of the controversy — Lindsey Stone of Plymouth, who posed for the photo, and Jamie Schuh of Mashpee, who took the picture — no longer work at Living Independently Forever Inc., known as LIFE, according to a statement Wednesday night on the company's Facebook page.

LIFE, a $2 million per year nonprofit Cape organization, operates assisted-living facilities in Hyannis and Mashpee for adults with learning and intellectual disabilities.

It is unclear if the women were fired or resigned. When reached by phone, LIFE chief financial officer James Godsill had no comment.

Stone did not answer the door Wednesday at her South Plymouth address as a dog barked outside. At Schuh's Mashpee condo, someone peeked through the drawn blinds but did not otherwise respond to a knock at the door.

Stone's father, Peter Stone, who lives at the same Plymouth address, told the Boston Herald he was appalled by the photo but defended his daughter. "The way I see her, and the way I've witnessed her for 30 years, is not at all what that photo shows," he said.

The two women issued a statement Tuesday night, apologizing for the photograph, which depicts Stone gesturing with her middle finger and appearing to scream next to a sign that calls for silence and respect at the Tomb of the Unknowns. They also apologized to LIFE for "any suffering to the staff members, residents, families and friends."

In an earlier interview with the Times, Godsill said LIFE employees continue to do their jobs despite the firestorm.

"I think it's fair to say that our employees are very supportive of what we do," he said. "They're supportive of the organization and residents we support. That bond is quite strong, and this, while it is certainly very unusual, we are going to deal with it in a way that our residents don't see any impact whatsoever."

On Tuesday, the company issued a strong statement condemning the actions of Stone and Schuh. Godsill said the company was outraged by the photo. "We are appalled at what they represented, what they desecrated."

The photo was taken during a trip to Washington, D.C., in October that included the two women, as well as six other LIFE employees and 40 residents.

As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 5,000 people had commented on LIFE's Facebook page, some critical of the company and the employees, with a few others sympathetic. In just over an hour Wednesday evening, the Facebook announcement that the two no longer worked at LIFE had more than 300 comments.

Nancy Sterling of ML Strategies, the public relations company that helped Camp Good News of Forestdale navigate an emerging sex scandal 18 months ago, said LIFE executives did the right thing by publicly admonishing the women's actions.

The public is typically impatient wanting a company to quickly fire individuals, but that's not always possible, said Scott Ferson, a principal with the Liberty Square Group, which represented the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe through a leadership crisis. "Public relations people always want to move faster than lawyers do," Ferson said.

Sterling and Ferson said LIFE should be able to weather the storm, although Ferson said it's difficult in the age of the 24-hour, seven-day-a-week media to contain a story to one news cycle.

Adding to the difficulty for LIFE and the women was the relatively slow news cycle when the photograph went viral on the web. Had the sex scandal involving former CIA director Gen. David Petraeus remained prominent, for example, the Facebook photo might not have gotten a segment on Wednesday's "Today" show, Sterling said.

"It could have been worse. It could have happened closer to Veterans Day, which would make it a bigger or worse story," she said.

Both experts said the company should be able to emerge with its reputation intact.

"There's no indication that this is part of the company culture," Ferson said. "People make mistakes that work for companies, but if the company moves swiftly and decisively, people are forgiving."

Staff writer Jason Cook contributed to this story.

The Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National cemetery.


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