Adria Richards has been fired from her job at SendGrid. Why? The story has been featured heavily online. For those of you who haven’t heard, Richards was attending a tech conference (PyCon) where a couple of employees from another company were making sexual jokes about “forking” and large “dangles”. These were double-entendres (forking = fucking and dangles= penis). Richards, who is a woman, which, in the tech industry makes her a minority, didn’t appreciate the comments and Tweeted a pic of the two men with commentary on their inappropriate comments. Sounds reasonable? I think so.
The result was termination for one of the men involved, and, curiously enough, for Richards. The man who was terminated posted a Tweet minimizing his actions and drawing attention to the fact that he had children and a wife to support. This is a common defence, but having children to support does not imply that you are allowed to sexually harass people in your work environment and not face the repercussions. Did this man need to be terminated? Perhaps not, but given that the other man involved did not get fired suggests that there is perhaps more to the story than what is being reported. If this was an isolated incident, then perhaps termination was excessive, but if this represented a pattern of behaviour, then the termination may not have been uncalled for.
The termination that is troubling is that of Adria Richards. Her former employer has suggested that she handled the situation inappropriately, but the bottom line is that her company, SendGrid, had no authority in the situation. They were not in a position to address the issue since the men who made the comments did not work for them. SendGrid could have contacted the company who the men worked for, but there is no guarantee that the issue would have been resolved. When a woman (or a man for that matter) is in a situation where there are others making inappropriate comments that make them feel uncomfortable, do they not have a right to respond? Is such public shaming out of hand? Many people seem to think that Richards was wrong for publicly shaming these men, but at the same time, few are suggesting that the public nature of what these men were doing was inappropriate.
Upon the news that one of them men had been terminated, SendGrid apparently became the victim of hackers and negative Tweets from people who believe Richards should have simply tolerated such treatment. SendGrid responded in the same way in which any company without a moral compass of backbone would, they fired Richards and announced it publically via Twitter. Apparently SendGrid does not want the women in their company standing up for themselves in the face of sexual harassment.
This is not an isolated incident. Women who are the victims of sexual harassment and even sexual assault have been told to keep quiet about it. At University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, for example, a student, Landen Gambill, reported that her former boyfriend was stalking her and harassing her and had attacked her. She did not publically name him, but the school issued her a warning claiming that, even though she had not named her attacker, that she was creating a “intimidating environment” for him. Rather than be worried about the victim, who spoke out publically without naming her attacker to draw attention to the issues and ensure other women were aware of the potential for danger, the school was worried about the man who had created the situation, protecting the perpetrator rather than the victim. Criminal charges had not been filed as, when Gambill reported the incident, school officials, she claimed, discouraged her from reporting the crime to the police and instead simply go through an “Honor Code” proceeding through the school. The man was found not-guilty in the proceeding where Gambill’s mental illness was draw into play and where the judge asked her why she had not ended the abusive relationship sooner if the abuse was an issue (suggesting that the victim, who had forgiven abuses initially, essentially gave her former boyfriend permission to continue to do it since she did not end the relationship the first time the abuse occurred). The University in question does not agree with these facts and claims no wrong-doing.
This seems to be an extension of the same mentality. Women who stand up for themselves in such instances are being punished for not tolerating the behaviour. SendGrid is punishing Richards for not being a passive victim and not allowing SendGrid to handle the situation in the way which they thought appropriate. The problem here though is that SendGrid is not the victim, Richards is, and as such has no right to dictate how the issue she be resolved.
There is of course another concern here, and that is with companies stepping outside of the work area and holding employees accountable for behaviour that doesn’t occur at work. Richards used her own Twitter account, not a company Twitter account, but the company fired her nonetheless. Should companies have the right to fire an employee for something they do on their own personal time? If I post something on Facebook about my personal experiences, does the company I work for have a right to fire me if they do not agree? Does an employer have a right to dictate what employees do on their own time? Coupled with that, SendGrid knew when they hired Richards that she had a blog that spoke to issues of gender equality, so when they hired her they had a reasonable grounds to assume that she would talk publically about her experience as a woman and so, if that were an potential issue, they should have not hired her in the first place.
Social networking sites are not the only aspect of employees’ personal life which employers are demanding authority over. Cathy Samford was terminated from her job as a teacher at a private Christian school (Heritage Christian Academy) for becoming pregnant out of wedlock. The school claimed that Samford failed to meet the contract she signed with the school which dictates that she be a ‘Christian role model’. I thought Christians were supposed to “judge not” and “forgive thy neighbour”. Nobody is without sin, but this school suggests that if you commit a sin then you can be fired. Does a man who commits an infidelity face the same repercussions? Does a man who lies get terminated? How about somebody who smokes or drinks? The body is a temple of god, so smoking and drinking can be seen as sins since they pollute the body, and gluttony is also a sin; will overweight men be fired for being gluttonous? Teri James was also terminated by the school where she worked for the same reasons. Ironically enough the school then offered her boyfriend and father of the child the job after terminating the pregnant mother-to-be. The school apparently thinks it is alright for a man to have premarital sex, but should a woman do the same, then that is grounds for termination. How much control should employers have over our lives?
Richards is also being held responsible for the termination of one of the men involved. She did not ask that anybody be fired, so she did not get anybody fired. The company where these men worked did their own independent investigation and based on that investigation decided to terminate one of the two men involved. Richards had nothing to do with that, but multitudes are blaming Richards for the termination. Had the men involved conducted themselves in a professional manner, there would be no issue at all.
This is frankly appalling. A company should support employees who are victims of harassment, not terminate them. SendGrid gave in to pressure from hackers who encouraged passive victims to stay just that and so have aligned themselves with them. SendGrid should be concerned with ensuring that their employees are working in a safe, harassment free environment, but instead are punishing victims of harassment and encouraging victims to remain passive and allow the company to dictate how they should respond to such harassment.
For anybody who wishes to express their disappointment with SendGrid, their Twitter account can be found at the following link:
Let’s all let SendGrid know that we do not support harassment or companies that punish victims.