Alice Evelyn Van Ness has been teaching yoga for six years and has always asked students to put away their cellphones during class. She says she was fired from her job with a contract fitness company for Facebook because she enforced a no cellphone policy in her classes.
During a recent session on the Facebook campus last month, after Van Ness reminded everybody at the beginning of class to put their phones aside, a Facebook employee began texting on her cellphone during an important and technical demonstration.
"I stopped talking and I looked at her and kind of like, you know, this disapproving look of... do you really need to do that right now? I didn't actually say anything," Van Ness told ABC7 News.
The Facebook employee gave a different version of events saying she felt humiliated. Two weeks later Van Ness was fired. In the now crumbled up termination letter from the fitness company which contracts with Facebook, Plus One Health Management, the company wrote in part, "We are in the business of providing great customer service. Unless a client specifically requires us to say 'no' to something, we prefer to say 'yes' whenever possible."
Van Ness says she understands the need to be plugged in, but says there should be limits. She also feels that cellphone use goes against the very essence of what yoga is all about.
"It's not an emergency room, it's just Facebook," Van Ness said. "I thought it could have probably waited."
The controversy has gone viral with many people ironically showing their support for Van Ness on Facebook. Darcy Elman, owner of Blue Iris Studio in Palo Alto, made a powerful statement by hiring Van Ness. "The metaphor of this whole situation of a yoga teacher getting fired to ask for a cellphone to be silent is really about how do we take time in the middle of our work day for ourselves," Elman said.
Van Ness says she thinks the debate has hit a chord because many people share her opinion that cellphone etiquette has all but vanished. "It's eroded something to me that's a basic respect for a teacher or a performer or anyone who's up there doing something, to give them your full attention. That's just how I feel," she said.
A Plus One Health Management spokesman says Van Ness was not a Facebook employee and they just simply do not comment on management decisions by third-party vendors.
While not commenting on this specific situation, Facebook says it is happy with the health management program provided by the vendor.