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Is this wrongful termination?

Timothy Kincaid

December 9th, 2009

Consider for a moment the following scenario.

You work for a private business. An advocacy group issues a statement and sends it to your employer which blames a recent vote on group bias. You respond by sending an email to that group which says:

’Who are the hateful, venom-spewing ones? Hint: Not the [opponents]. You hateful people have been spreading nothing but vitriol since this campaign began. Good riddance!’

Question: how long would you remain employed?

This occurred in Maine following the passage of Question 1. HRC sent a statement to the press, including the Maine Morning Sentinel in Waterville, Maine.

Larry Grard, a journalist for the Sentinel responded by sending the following email to Trevor Thomas, HRC’s deputy communications director:

’Who are the hateful, venom-spewing ones? Hint: Not the yes on 1 crowd. You hateful people have been spreading nothing but vitriol since this campaign began. Good riddance!’

Thomas emailed the editor, “I received the below email this morning after our national media release was sent to your team. … It’s frankly, just not acceptable coming from a news organization the morning after our defeat.” Shortly thereafter, with no further communication with HRC, the editor fired Grard.

Grard says it’s “anti-Christian bias”. What do you say?

Comments

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Burr
December 9th, 2009 | LINK

Despite trying to abstract it away, it’s pretty clear this sort of thing would only happen at a news organization.

If he replied like that on company time and with his professional e-mail, then that’s just incompetence.

Timothy Kincaid
December 9th, 2009 | LINK

Burr,

It appears to have been on company time but from his “personal account”.

Jason D
December 9th, 2009 | LINK

he’s unprofessional.

One thing being glossed over in your first paragraph.

Grard is a reporter. He works in the media. HRC sent out a PRESS RELEASE (ie, information for the media). In other words, an official communication for professional news organizations and any one else who’s interested.

It’s likely he’s on their mailing list for work purposes.

Media professionals receive dozens of press releases on a daily basis. It’s part of their jobs. It’s one of the ways they find new stories to report on.

Essentially this comes down to an employee taking offense at work-related-email, then firing off an attack response on company time, using company equipment. Does this sound professional to you?

Lindoro Almaviva
December 9th, 2009 | LINK

Grard says it’s “anti-Christian bias”. What do you say?

I call it you reap what you sow. Apparently the Christian right has not read the entirety of the bible or thinks that they are immune to this tenant.

Transplanted Lawyer
December 9th, 2009 | LINK

If it was sent on company time but a personal account, as suggested, I think it’s a pretty thin tissue to suggest that he was fired for misuse of company time and not for expressing his political opinion. That is, the burden is on the employer to prove that it wasn’t firing him for expressing his political opinion.

The question is, under Maine law, is that a valid grounds for termination? Absent a particular law of that state protecting political expression, I think you can legitimately fire someone for having a political opinion at variance with that of the bosses, even on his own time. Make the case even clearer — let’s say Eddie the Employee, on his own time and from a personal e-mail account, sends an e-mail out to every customer and vendor of EmployerCo., Inc., that reads: “I think that Hitler was right and the shame of it was he got stopped before he could complete his plan.” Approving of Hitler is a political opinion, and an extremely unpopular one at that. Obviously that reflects badly on EmployerCo, and if EmployerCo doesn’t fire Eddie, it’s going to lose some business.

Bruce Garrett
December 9th, 2009 | LINK

It appears to have been on company time but from his “personal account”.

Was it sent on a company computer? That’s gotten a lot of people in trouble recently. His account of what happened suggests it was (he found this HRC press release waiting for him at work and he fired off his nastygram…sounds as though he did it then and there). Has anyone heard from the newspaper as to their specific grounds for termination? If it was just, he sent it on his own time on his own equipment then yes, it seems extreme. But people get fired for sending nastygrams from the office all the time, personal accounts or not.

Richard W. Fitch
December 9th, 2009 | LINK

I don’t know the laws of Maine. Many states have “work at will” laws”, meaning you can be released for any reason or no reason at all. Unless this employee was in a mutually binding contract, there’s not much in his favor.

Richard Rush
December 9th, 2009 | LINK

Grard was responding to an email sent to his employer. So the only reason for him to respond to that email from his personal account would be to deliberately hide his response – a response he obviously knew would not be welcomed by his employer. It was still company business, it seems to me.

While I don’t know his company’s policies, Grard certainly should have. And while I have no opinion on whether the company was within their legal rights to fire him, I have to admit that I find it satisfying that he was fired.

John
December 9th, 2009 | LINK

I am not sure as toward what part of his response was religious in nature. He is claiming “anti-Christian bias,” yet no part of his email to HRC cites any religious belief.

Priya Lynn
December 9th, 2009 | LINK

Yes, John, I don’t know enough about U.S. law or this employer’s policies to know if it was right to fire him, but he wasn’t fired for “anti-christian” bias, he was fired for anti-homophobe bias.

TampaZeke
December 9th, 2009 | LINK

It may have been on his personal account but it was done on the COMPANY’S computer.

They most likely have a policy against using company property for personal use.

a. mcewen
December 9th, 2009 | LINK

I do think that there is a rule about no matter if its your own account, if it is done on company property then there is a problem.

Matt
December 9th, 2009 | LINK

My partner and his sister work for a local radio station, so I hear conversations constantly about journalistic ethics. Journalists are held to a higher standard when it comes to editorializing. His action as a reporter to make such a response to a press release, even if it had been from home on his own PC with his private email address, could be considered to cross that line if he was privy to the information through his job. Apparently his employer thought so and canned him.

Rick
December 9th, 2009 | LINK

Because he was working as a reporter covering the marriage vote in Maine I do think that it is relevant to why he was terminated. It is one of those situations where he should have thought twice before he hit send. Journalists who cover issues are held to a standard and he violated that the minute he sent the email, whether from his personal email or his company email.

Lynn David
December 9th, 2009 | LINK

I’d say that one should be able to fire a Christian if they aren’t in agreement with your religious tenets.

lurker
December 10th, 2009 | LINK

If a queer person had written such a letter to – say – a conservative political or christian group, then that queer person should get fired too! It doesn’t have to do with the identity of the writer, it has to do with professionalism.

This is about using work priviliges – and actually representing an employer – to inappropriately express personal views, and an inflamitory way, also.

Gus
December 10th, 2009 | LINK

I’ve had co-workers fired for using company computers to check their personal email accounts, let alone writing an email.

Mortanius
December 10th, 2009 | LINK

I agree with John, nothing in Grard’s statement indicated any religion much less Christianity. By all appearances he, as a professional, responded to a news release in an unprofessional manner.

Grard claiming (ex post facto) that he is being fired because of his religious beliefs is weak, unless he is willing to testify that the sole purpose of the Yes on 1 campaign is a purely Christian Religion purpose of denying equal rights to a group of people they hate and not about “protecting marriage”.

Dr. Matthew
December 10th, 2009 | LINK

This seems a very weak defense – as some of the first responses pointed out, the matter of which computer and which account he replied from aren’t really that relevant. He used a communication received at work, in a legitimate capacity, to send a hostile message. If the front desk clerk at your local Motel 6 seriously insulted a patron who had simply asked for a room, no one would care about resource use – same here. In the course of his work he behaved unprofessionally, blaming his religion after the fact is unlikely to be successful.

Houndentenor
December 10th, 2009 | LINK

I don’t think it’s anti-Christian bias. Not all Christians would agree with his views on this issue so it’s not about his religion. But I don’t think he should be fired. Maybe if he had responded using the company email or in an official capacity, but he shouldn’t be punished for personally disagreeing with the official political positions of his company. Think carefully if you want to be fired because you disagree with your employer’s view on health care reform or any other issue.

David Mudkips
December 11th, 2009 | LINK

Not anti-Christian bias.

I work in the infosec field, and am often tasked to research whether someone has abused company time / resources to do something not in the company’s interest.

This, CLEARLY, was a stupid move on Grard’s part. You don’t use company time or resources to engage in your own political/moral evangelizing.

The proper response if (as a journalist who received a press release in his official capacity) would be to go to his editor and see if perhaps he could publish an editorial rebuttal.

Responding personally and testily to a communication he received on the job was just plain dumb.

Doesn’t sound like he learned anything from this little life lesson though.

Mykelb
December 14th, 2009 | LINK

Private employers can fire us for being gay, why not christians? Maybe he now understands what bigotry means.

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