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Tech Worker Fired After Tweeting About Crude Joke, Setting Off Controversy

Tech Worker Fired After Tweeting About Crude Joke, Setting Off Controversy

A techie was fired after tweeting about a crude joke she overheard at a computer programming conference, getting one of the alleged jokesters fired and setting off a debate about gender equality within the male-dominated IT world.

Adria Richards recounted the incident, which took place on Sunday at a conference in Santa Clara. She said two men behind her started joking about “big dongles,” which is the name for a device that plugs into a computer but was referre to in a sexual way, she said.

Upset over hearing the joke, Richards took a picture of the two men and posted it on Twitter along with the crude joke.

Her tweet got the attention of the organizers of the conference, who met with Richards and the two alleged jokesters.

“We pulled all the individuals aside. We got all sides of the story. They said she was right, and they were very apologetic,” Jesse Noller, chair of the PyCon 2013 conference, told The Associated Press.

But the incident didn’t end there. One of the two men, an employee of PlayHaven, was fired.

“PlayHaven had an employee who was identified as making inappropriate comments at PyCon, and as a company that is dedicated to gender equality and values honorable behavior, we conducted a thorough investigation. The result of this investigation led to the unfortunate outcome of having to let this employee go,” PlayHaven CEO Andy Yang said in a blog posting.

That wasn’t the only fallout. Richards was also fired for tweeting the identities of the two men involved.

Jim Franklin, CEO of her employer SendGrid, said the techie was right to report the incident but should not have shamed those involved.

“Her decision to tweet the comments and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line,” Franklin wrote in a blog post on the site. “Publicly shaming the offenders — and bystanders — was not the appropriate way to handle the situation.”

Adria Richard Fired After Tweet

With Richards fired after tweeting about the crude joke, the tech world was filled with debate. Many people tweeted and wrote about the incident online, some supporting Richards and others agreeing with her company’s decision to fire her.

Critics of the firing said Richards was simply speaking out against the sexism that pervades the largely male industry. Some point out that her termination could easily be challenged in court.

“It’s a tough one,” Rob Pattison, a San Francisco attorney who represents employers for the Jackson Lewis law firm, told the San Jose Mercury News. “The law is strong in protecting people who make complaints of harassment, or who participate in an investigation about complaints of harassment.”

Therese Lawless, a San Francisco attorney who represents employees in discrimination cases, says Richards was fired after tweeting as a punishment for making waves.

“They’re basically retaliating against her for speaking out about sexual harassment,” Lawless said. “Oftentimes, 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.”

Richards has not spoke since being fired after tweeting about the joke, but said in a blog post that the incident made her disenchanted with her industry, writing: “Women in technology need consistent messaging from birth through retirement they are welcome, competent and valued in the industry.”

Therese Lawless, a San Francisco attorney who represents employees in employment and discrimination cases does not know Richards but said Richards would have a “groundbreaking case” if it went to court because her complaint was made on social media.

“I like it,” Lawless said. “She has a case.”

“They’re basically retaliating against her for speaking out about sexual harassment,” Lawless said. “Oftentimes, 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.”

Richard has not spoken since being fired after tweeting about the crude joke, but said in a blog post that the incident has made her disenchanted with her industry.

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