GitHub is under fire for apparently sacking an employee two days after warning colleagues in Washington DC that “Nazis are about” during the ransacking of the US Capitol last week.
The unnamed staffer sent the message on an internal Slack channel last Wednesday, and was reportedly challenged by another employee who criticized him for using divisive language, sparking a battle of words.
The issue was escalated to human resources, who reprimanded the employee for using the word “Nazi.” Then, two days later, last Friday, he was fired with GitHub citing "patterns of behavior," according to a report by Business Insider earlier.
Those details have not been contested by the source-code management powerhouse but the fact that the employee is Jewish and that GitHub’s own CEO had also pointed out that there were neo-Nazis at the Capitol riot (which there were) raised serious questions over the treatment of the staffer, and led to internal outcry and a petition signed by 200 or more employees demanding answers to the firing.
Both GitHub’s CEO and COO have responded, promising that the Microsoft-owned biz is looking into the issue and will “take any and all appropriate action following a thorough investigation.” But with no other information forthcoming, questions are again being raised about the code-hosting giant, and Silicon Valley's lack of tolerance for anything that doesn’t fit with the overwhelmingly White male, and also Christian, culture that pervades the industry.
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The internal petition asked GitHub for a stronger approach against antisemitism and White supremacy, and argued that it didn’t feel like a safe place to work.
The axed employee, meanwhile, has given his version of events, including copies of internal messages. “I did not know that, as a Jew, it would be so polarizing to say this word,” he wrote in a Slack group for Jewish employees, it was reported. "We grew up saying [Nazi]. 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 he wouldn't work in the tech industry again thanks to its "toxic" culture.
Taken at face value, the original warning shared on the internal Slack workspace, “stay safe homies, Nazis are about,” complete with sad emoji, is obviously not grounds for firing someone, especially given the extraordinary events of last week.
That he was apparently fired for “patterns of behavior,” which some suggest is deliberately vaguely incriminating, and that he is Jewish, are the sort of details that spark speculation yet are likely to have little to do with the actual reason to fire him.
GitHub has not committed to making the results of its internal investigation public and it has so far failed to respond to a number of our questions aimed at understanding the situation better while respecting the employee’s privacy. ®
Updated to add
GitHub screwed up royally, its HR chief quit, and the Jewish employee was offered his job back as he shouldn't have been axed in the first place.