Labor Attorneys Agree: The Adria Richards Firing Will Be Hard to Defend

Illustration for article titled Labor Attorneys Agree: The Adria Richards Firing Will Be Hard to Defend

It seems that Adria Richards, the developer evangelist who fired the tweet heard round the tech community when she'd decided she'd heard one ""dongle" quip too many at male-dominated conferences like PyCon or the entire tech industry, will have a solid wrongful termination case.


According to Bay Area attorneys queried by Mercury News, SendGrid's decision to fire Richards for tweeting a picture of two men sitting behind her at PyCon, snickering about "forking" and "dongles," may prove difficult to defend in court. A San Francisco labor attorney named Rob Pattison (so close!) explained that Richards' "public shaming" tweet was completely within bounds, and that there are measures in place to safeguard people like Richards who report workplace harassment:

It's a tough one. The law is strong in protecting people who make complaints of harassment, or who participate in an investigation about complaints of harassment.


Richards drew outsized ire from the tech community after she tweeted a picture of two tech bros who'd been treating PyCon like a middle school multi-purpose room assembly. The men subsequently lost their jobs, and Richards, who just a few days ago worked for SendGrid, lost her gig because none of the employers involved in this shit blizzard seem to have any sense of perspective. If SendGrid's CEO Jim Franklin had been in charge of the nuclear codes during the Cuban Missile Crisis, for instance, Orlando might be an irradiated wasteland instead of a magical simulacrum of Main Street U.S.A.

Franklin defended Richards' firing in blog post on SendGrid's site, trying to make the case that by tweeting the PyCon photo, Richards had "alienated" members of the tech community, thereby making herself a far less effective developer evangelist:

A SendGrid developer evangelist's responsibility is to build and strengthen our Developer Community across the globe. In light of the events over the last 48+ hours, it has become obvious that her [Richards'] actions have strongly divided the same community she was supposed to unite. As a result, she can no longer be effective in her role at SendGrid. ... In the end, the consequences that resulted from how she reported the conduct put our business in danger.

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. ... Needless to say, a heated public debate ensued. The discourse, productive at times, quickly spiraled into extreme vitriol.

At some point and on some level, rational thinking has to kick in, and a CEO like Franklin has to realize that the Richards incident presents an opportunity to show observers that the tech world isn't the insulated, sexist boys club it's been pegged as. Maybe, in the panoramic picture of workplace sexism, "dongle" jokes aren't a huge issue. Maybe those two hapless conference-goers didn't deserve to lose their jobs at PlayHaven and have their lives interrupted, but, then again, maybe women in the tech community deserve to attend a professional fucking conference full of professional fucking people without feeling like outsiders who have just accidentally interrupted a Halo circle jerk tournament in someone's windowless basement.


Another San Francisco attorney named Therese Lawless (is everyone in California almost named after a celebrity?) ventured a step further than Pattison, saying that Richards might have a "groundbreaking case" if she decides to follow through with it. After all, Richards was merely reporting harassment to the wider tech community:

They're basically retaliating against her for speaking out about sexual harassment. 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 herself offered no comment on the ongoing saga, except to assure anyone following reports that she's received some pretty gruesome threats that she's "staying safe."

Adria Richards: Lawyers say firing of developer who outed inappropriate comments on Twitter hard to defend in court [Mercury News]

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I feel like I'm missing something here. I mean, I agree she shouldn't have lost her job over it, but I don't understand why she publicly shamed and called for an official response over a couple guys making dick jokes. What happened to a good death glare and "Do you mind? I can't hear the speaker" —- or even just moving seats?

I know, I know. That's me being antifeminist and an apologist for a sexist culture and blah blah blah. But I just can't imagine a situation where an overheard conversation of the type Adria described would move me to action beyond thinking the people having the conversation are assholes.