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EXCLUSIVE: GitHub is facing employee backlash after the firing of a Jewish employee who suggested 'Nazis are about' on the day of the US Capitol siege (MSFT)

Published by Business Insider on Tue, 12 Jan 2021


<p><img src="https://static4.businessinsider.com/image/5ce5de6d18fe601ae27bc534-1138/ceo nat friedman1.jpeg" border="0" alt="GitHub CEO Nat Friedman" data-mce-source="GitHub" data-mce-caption="GitHub CEO Nat Friedman"></p><p></p><bi-shortcode id="summary-shortcode" data-type="summary-shortcode" class="mceNonEditable" contenteditable="false">Summary List Placement</bi-shortcode><p>On January 6ththe day of the siege of the US Capitol by a mob of Trump supportersan employee at Microsoft-owned GitHub took to an internal Slack chat room to warn coworkers in the greater Washington DC area to "stay safe homies, Nazis are about," with a sad emoji.</p><p>A coworker was quick to criticize the employee for using divisive rhetoric, igniting a firestorm of internal debate, with many jumping in to take sides. That same day, HR reprimanded the employee, who is Jewish, for using the word "Nazi" in the workplace.</p><p>On Friday, two days later, the employee told Insider that he was terminated, with human resources citing unspecified "patterns of behavior." The employee asked not to be named, citing concerns over online harassment, but his identity is known to Insider.</p><p>"I did not know that, as a Jew, it would be so polarizing to say this word," the former employee wrote in a Slack group for Jewish employees, in a message viewed by Insider. The employee says he sent the message during the meeting where he was officially terminated from GitHub, before his corporate accounts got deactivated.</p><p>"We grew up saying [Nazi]," he wrote in the message. "It was a story we told because we had to the decimation of whole lines of ancestry were at the hands of people who went by that title." He also said in his message that he likely wouldn't work in tech again because of its "toxic" culture.</p><p>Now, GitHub is facing internal backlash, according to two people familiar with the situation. About 200 of its some 1700 employees signing on to an open letter asking management for answers about the firing of that employee, a source said. In the letter, GitHub employees ask the company to take a firmer stand against anti-Semitism and white supremacy, and say that they no longer feel like it's a safe place to work.</p><p>In response to the letter, GitHub CEO Nat Friedman sent a message on Monday to employees to denounce the siege on the Capitol last week. In the message, viewed by Insider, Friedman also said that the company is looking into the circumstances surrounding the employee's termination and "will take any and all appropriate action following a thorough investigation." You can read more excerpts from his message below.</p><p>"I, GitHub, and everyone on our leadership team condemn the attack on the US Capitol last week and any and all belief systems that are discriminatory," Friedman wrote in his message. "Antisemitism, neonazis, and white supremacyalong with all other forms of racismare vile and have no place in the world, and especially no place in our community."</p><p>Microsoft, GitHub's parent company, has also denounced the siege of the US Capitol, <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/us-capitol-siege-business-leaders-react-jamie-dimon-alexis-ohanian-2021-1">joining many of its peers in the tech industry in doing so</a>. The $1.6 trillion tech titan is <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/leaked-microsoft-discussions-show-unrest-over-mspac-donations-2021-1">seeing its own internal backlash</a>, as some employees object to the Microsoft PAC's donations to many of the Republicans who opposed certifying the election results last week.</p><p>This isn't the first time GitHub has <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/open-source-activism-ice-protests-open-source-initiative-2019-11">faced employee activism</a>. In 2019, over 150 GitHub employees signed an open letter asking the company to drop its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with several employees <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/github-employees-ice-contracts-protest-microsoft-2019-11">resigning over the issue</a>.&nbsp;</p><h2>'I was scared for the people who were there'</h2><p>The former employee, who is Jewish and had family who died in the Holocaust, told Insider that he sent the original message because he wanted to warn people to be careful: The mob rampaging through the US Capitol <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/hate-symbols-and-extremist-groups-at-the-us-capitol-siege-2021-1">included people</a> associated with far-right, white-supremacist, and neo-Nazi groups. He tells Insider that he has Jewish family living in the Washington DC area, and was concerned for their safety and the safety of his coworkers.</p><p>"I was scared for people who were there," the former employee told Insider. "After that, there was confusion about my messaging on it."</p><p>He said that the reprimand for his language came quickly, in the form of a Slack message from HR. He said that he was terminated on Friday morning during a meeting with his manager that was also attended by an HR representative. The employee said that he's seeking a written explanation from GitHub on the "patterns of behavior" cited at the time of his termination, but has yet to hear back.</p><p>The backlash against his firing spilled out into the weekend, as GitHub COO Erica Brescia sent a message to all employees on Sunday saying that the company is "actively looking" into the situation and will take "any appropriate action after running a thorough process." You can read more of the message below.</p><p>"GitHub <em>does not tolerate discrimination, harassment, or retaliation</em>," Brescia wrote in the message, viewed by Insider. "Period. This applies to both our everyday interactions with other Hubbers and any separation decisions. If we learn of any actions inconsistent with our policies or values, we will always investigate those thoroughly and take appropriate action."</p><p>Ultimately, this backlash also echoes a wave of activism against racism in the mostly-white tech industry, which has long struggled with diversity and inclusion. It also shows <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/how-year-rising-tension-inside-google-led-its-first-union-2021-1">tech workers organizing to push their employers to take moral and ethical stands</a>, as we see with the recent organization of a union at Google.</p><p><strong><em>Read more: </em></strong><a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/open-source-activism-ice-protests-open-source-initiative-2019-11"><em>Software freedom vs human freedom: A surge of activism is rocking open source developers, as programmers fight to stop their software from being used for 'evil'</em></a></p><p>In his final Slack message to coworkers, the employee said that his experience shows that the tech industry, and GitHub in particular, needs to be held more accountable for improving diversity and inclusion at the leadership level.</p><p>"The tech industry can be very insular," the former employee said. "This can be an opportunity for people to see white supremacy is a problem. It's not just a cultural thing. It can be a structural thing."</p><h2><strong>Excerpts from Erica Brescia's message shared on Sunday, January 10 to the entire company:&nbsp;</strong></h2><p>"GitHub <em>does not tolerate discrimination, harassment, or retaliation</em>. Period. This applies to both our everyday interactions with other Hubbers and any separation decisions. If we learn of any actions inconsistent with our policies or values, we will always investigate those thoroughly and take appropriate action. In the case of last week's separation, <em>the company is actively looking into it</em> and will take any appropriate action after running a thorough process.</p><p>GitHub is <em>committed</em> to providing Hubbers with a safe, inclusive, and welcoming work environment. GitHub values that Hubbers have a wide range of opinions and beliefs, and we welcome respectful, professional dialogue on a wide variety of topics important to our team and our work. We support Hubbers engaging in open dialogue and raising concerns as long as they do so in a respectful and inclusive way and in accordance with our Handbook."</p><h2><strong>Excerpts from Nat Friedman's message responding to the internal employee letter on Monday, January 11:&nbsp;</strong></h2><p>"It was appalling to me last week to watch a violent mob, including Nazis and white supremacists, attack the US Capitol. That these hateful ideologies were able to reach the sacred seat of our democratic republic in 2021 is sickening. The views that propelled this attack are morally abhorrent to me personally, and, I know, to our entire leadership team and company.</p><p>I want to make two things unequivocally clear:</p><ul><li aria-level="1">I, GitHub, and everyone on our leadership team condemn the attack on the US Capitol last week and any and all belief systems that are discriminatory. Antisemitism, neonazis, and white supremacyalong with all other forms of racismare vile and have no place in the world, and especially no place in our community.</li><li aria-level="1">As Erica mentioned in her Hub post, the company is actively looking into the circumstances surrounding the separation of an employee last week and will take any and all appropriate action following a thorough investigation."</li></ul><p><em><strong>Do you work at GitHub or Microsoft' Got a tip'</strong>&nbsp;Contact this reporter via email at&nbsp;<a href="mailto:rmchan@businessinsider.com">rmchan@businessinsider.com</a>, Signal at&nbsp;646.376.6106,&nbsp;Telegram at @rosaliechan, or&nbsp;Twitter DM at&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/rosaliechan17">@rosaliechan17</a>. (PR pitches by email only, please.) Other types of secure messaging available upon request.&nbsp;</em></p><p><strong>SEE ALSO:&nbsp;<a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/oracle-ellison-catz-silent-us-capitol-siege-politics-2021-1" >Oracle employees say Safra Catz and Larry Ellison don't talk about their Trump ties internally. After the US Capitol siege, some want action: There's 'blood on their hands'</a></strong></p><p><a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/microsoft-github-backlash-jewish-employee-termination-2021-1#comments">Join the conversation about this story &#187;</a></p> <p>NOW WATCH: <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/how-parasite-delivered-one-of-the-best-twists-in-cinema-2020-2">What makes 'Parasite' so shocking is the twist that happens in a 10-minute sequence</a></p>
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