Legal Experts Say Tech Evangelist Fired Over A Tweet Could Win If She Brought Her Former Employers To Court

March 25, 2013  |  

Have you ever overheard a conversation and tweeted bits and pieces of that convo, or maybe mentioned it on Facebook or Tumblr? Well, doing  just that got a software developer in San Francisco fired. Now many labor attorneys are saying she could have a solid wrongful termination case.

Developer evangelist Adria Richards, who works for SendGrid (a firm that develops cloud-based e-mail service) was given the axe after she tweeted a photo of fellow conference attendees who made sexual jokes she overheard and considered offensive. (We profiled Richards, one of the few African-American women techies in the field, last year.) The tweet has caused “a firestorm of debates about sexism and social media decorum in Silicon Valley,” reports USA Today.

But some say Richards  should not have been fired for her “public shaming” of the men. In fact, as Mercury News reports (via Jezebel), her company will have a  difficult time defending their decision in court. One attorney, Therese Lawless, told the paper that Richards might have a “groundbreaking case” if she decides to follow through with a lawsuit against her former employer. “They’re basically retaliating against her for speaking out about sexual harassment. Often times, employers say their excuse is that ‘We want this person out of the workforce because they don’t fit into the culture, they don’t get along with their co-workers.’ But she’s in a situation where she’s speaking about inappropriate behavior,” Lawless told Jezebel.

The “offensive” jokes were overheard at the PyCon conference, where software developers who code in Python language had gathered. Richards’ role was as a “developer evangelist,” a role that SendGrid CEO Jim Franklin said, in a blog post, she could no longer fulfill because of the tweet.

“To be clear, SendGrid supports the right to report inappropriate behavior, whenever and wherever it occurs,” Franklin wrote. “Her decision to tweet the comments and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line. Publicly shaming the offenders – and bystanders – was not the appropriate way to handle the situation.”

One of the men from Richards’ photo was fired by his employer, gaming software developer PlayHaven. Media reports say Richards did not confront him before tweeting the photo and remarks. PyCon staffers escorted the man from the conference hall after they saw Richards’ tweets.

This incident has raised a number of issues. Should a conversation at an event be considered private? How deep does sexism go in the tech world? A CNN story makes note of the attacks that Richards and SendGrid received, with quotes from some in the industry questioning the safety of the industry for women, and the sensibility of the men who participate in it. Was Richards right in tweeting about the offender and his comments? While it was probably okay for her to tweet the convo without giving the names of those involved, did she cross the line by tweeting the photo? Should she have been fired as well? In the digital world there are so many areas that remain uncharted, and this was a lesson learned on the ramifications of tweeting about others.

What do you think about Richards being fired?

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