SendGrid and Playhaven – Fustercluck All Around

So there’s this breaking news about SendGrid and their recent termination of an employee. According to their press release:

Effective immediately, SendGrid has terminated the employment of Adria Richards. While we generally are sensitive and confidential with respect to employee matters, the situation has taken on a public nature. We have taken action that we believe is in the overall best interests of SendGrid, its employees, and our customers. As we continue to process the vast amount of information, we will post something more comprehensive.

Okay – the backstory. Adria Richard, who was the Evangelist for SendGrid, evidently took offense to “dongle”comments made by two PlayHaven developers who were sitting behind her at PyCon and tweeted her sentiments out to the world:

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As a result, at least one of the above referenced engineers was fired from his job. According to PlayHaven’s press release:

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. We value and protect the privacy of our employees, both past and present, and we will not comment on all the factors that contributed to our parting ways.

The PlayHaven termination then set off a flurry Twitter threats directed towards Ms. Richards, who again took to Twitter to share her feelings.

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Which leads us back to the need for SendGrid’s press release.

Needless to say, the masses are not happy. SendGrid was the subject of a DDOS attack, #teamadria is popping up all over the place and just as many people are supporting the guy who was fired from PlayHaven. Via Atlantic Wire

One of the men in that photo ended up getting fired for his “dongle” joke. Though, he claims, “the sexual context was applied by Adria,” with regards to the “forking” jab. Since a certain type Internet crowd hates the idea of losing anonymity at the expense of sexist remarks — creepshots, anyone? — hackers shut down her employer’s website. As a result and for similar reasons, SendGrid started losing some customers, like one person who tweeted: “Canceled my accout with @sendgrid today. I cannot do business with someone who supports a woman who gets a father fired over a joke #freedom.” In addition, Richards also received a barrage of threats on Twitter. All of that seems to have resulted in the termination of Richards.

So did each company do the right thing?

If you’re a stickler for rules, then yes, both Ms. Richards and the PlayHaven developer should have been taken to task for representing their companies in questionable light – she for stating that her company supported her and he for making questionable (at best) statements while wearing a company shirt at a conference.

But are these really terminable offenses? Of course they are. California, where both companies are based, is an at-will state, meaning that either employer or employee can terminate the employment relationship for any reason, with or without notice, so long as no civil rights are violated.

But was termination warranted in either case, on the surface, probably not. But, unless you happen to work in HR for both companies, none of us are privvy to either of the employees’ personnel files. Perhaps there were previous incidents that contributed to the respective terminations.

We’ll never know. And that’s okay. Because personnel files are private and they should stay that way.