Yes, for the Millionth Time: You Can Be Fired for This

by Corey Robin on September 30, 2013

My Little Pony

My daughter loves My Little Pony. So does this guy. And that, apparently, is a problem. Grown men are not supposed to like the same things as young girls.

The guy—though Gawker has done a story on him, he remains anonymous—is a dad in his late 30s. He calls himself “a fairly big fan.” He made the picture of one of the show’s characters the background image on his desktop. He talked to the boss’s 9-year-old daughter about the show. His co-workers, and the boss, got freaked out. According to the guy, the boss told him that “it’s weird and it makes people uncomfortable that I have a ‘tv show for little girls as a background.’”

Now he’s been fired.

After talking to several folks, I’m still not clear why people are freaked out by this guy. Is it the gender non-comformity? If so, you better revise your sense of what’s normal because, as the Washington Post reports, an increasing number of dudes are loving the show. There’s even a FB page called “The Christian Libertarian Brony.” (The creator of the page writes: “On this page I post stuff about Austrian economics, Christian libertarianism/Christian anarcho-capitalism, MLP:FiM & GMOs!”)

Or is it the hint of pedophilia? If so, would you be nervous if a grown man had a passion for Little League or superhero comics? Enough to fire him?

Others have told me it’s the Peter Pan syndrome: guys like this just seem like they’ve never grown up. Unlike, apparently, every other dude on the internet.

Regardless of what buttons are being set off by this guy, the story just confirms a point some of us have been making over and over again: the American workplace is one of the most coercive institutions around. It’s a place where, whatever the niceties and pieties of our allegedly tolerant culture may be, bosses and supervisors get to act out—and on—their most regressive anxieties and fears. It’s a playground of cultural and political recidivism, where men and women (but more often men) are given the tools to inflict and enforce their beliefs, their style, their values upon their employees.

Chris Bertram, Alex Gourevitch, and I have tried to use these extreme cases to point to a more systemic underlying problem of power and domination in the workplace. It’s not merely that bosses are intolerant assholes, though clearly many of them are. It’s that they get to be intolerant assholes because the workplace is set up that way. Not by accident, or in the exception, but by design. In the typical American workplace, you can be fired for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reason at all. By law.

And so we come back to the Gawker piece. As Nathan Newman pointed out to me, every time a story like this comes out, there’s a frenzy of commentary, where people wonder whether or not this kind of thing is illegal, why doesn’t the employee sue, and so on. Most people seem to think that First Amendment-ish freedoms—the freedom of not merely speech but of expression, of personal style, etc.—apply in the workplace. They don’t. And while there are a host of protections for protected categories of workers, those constitute a limited number of cases.* The vast majority of cases of workplace coercion are simply not covered by federal or state law (though see this article by Eugene Volokh for a counterpoint; his focus, however, is on exclusively political speech). Unless you have a union, which ensures that you can only be fired for just cause, you’re often screwed.

Here’s the bottom line: in most American workplaces, the boss can fire any brony who loves My Little Pony. It’s totally legal. And that’s the problem.

*I asked Nathan, who’s an expert on labor and employment law, whether or not this guy could make some kind of claim based on gender discrimination, i.e., that he was fired for being insufficiently masculine, along the lines of a woman claiming she was fired for being insufficiently feminine. Here’s what he wrote back:

That’s the only plausible argument but few lawsuits on that basis have been successful, even for women arguing they are insufficiently feminine—unless they can show it’s part of an overall bias against women in general. But where no clear bias against women and men in hiring and promotion, differential dress codes and other biases based on gender that do not burden their performance of work would generally be legal. That’s one reason why state (and ideally federal) gay and transgender anti-discrimination laws are needed.


He then sent me to this article—“Sexual Orientation, Gender Nonconformity, and Trait-Based  Discrimination: Cautionary Tales From Title VII & An  Argument for Inclusion”—by Angela Clements from the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law and Justice, which I have not yet read.

{ 104 comments }

1

Anderson 09.30.13 at 8:34 pm

Pretty nuts. Me, I think Hello Kitty rocks, but luckily for my continued employment, this isn’t something I feel the need to express in my consumer choices.

2

Anderson 09.30.13 at 8:50 pm

Also, on the related theme of what you can (or can’t) be subjected to in the workplace, I’m not sure whether this case inspires (1) faith in the federal judiciary to do the right thing, or (2) horror that six judges dissented (and how!).

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a jury finding of liability against Boh Brothers Construction in a case brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to an ABA Media Alert. The 10-6 en banc opinion (PDF), issued on Friday, is contrary to a 5th Circuit panel decision last year, covered in this 2012 New Orleans Times Picayune story.

Both the worker, Kerry Woods, and his crew superintendent, Chuck Wolfe, were heterosexual men, according to the opinion. But Woods did not conform to Wolfe’s view of how a man should act, the majority said. Wolfe called Woods a princess and a faggot, simulated sex with Woods when he bent over, and exposed himself to Woods while urinating, sometimes waving and smiling. He also asserted Woods was “kind of gay” because he used Wet Ones.

The contempt of the dissenters is just ugly, like they’re, uh, commenting on one of Belle’s posts.

3

SamChevre 09.30.13 at 8:56 pm

To restate: although the exceptions are growing, freedom of association is still the rule in most workplaces.

4

Typhoon Jim 09.30.13 at 8:58 pm

I would prefer that we have a tight enough labor market and enough of a safety net that people can fire their employees and it really doesn’t burn them up too bad.

Bad economic conditions with no safety net do nothing but pinch and limit and darken. Keynes knew this, and this was his prime motivation for what he did.

5

Corey Robin 09.30.13 at 8:58 pm

SamChevre: Can you tell me what you’re basing this claim on: “Freedom of association is still the rule in most workplaces.” I’m not sure what you even mean by freedom of association, but if we take the case of unionization, which is actually a federally protected category of workplace association, most studies indicate just the opposite. I blogged about these studies here: http://coreyrobin.com/2011/07/21/why-arent-there-more-union-members-in-america-a-reply-to-will-wilkinson/

6

Mike from Ottawa 09.30.13 at 9:04 pm

It’s no wonder Americans are such a very fearful people. in Canada, that concept of ‘at will’ employment is simply alien and bizarre. Unless an employee is fired for cause, the employer has to give reasonable notice (or pay in lieu), which can be substantial. It’s like having thrown off one ‘tyrant’, Americans have sought to find a replacement in myriads of petty tyrants.

7

Ronan(rf) 09.30.13 at 9:05 pm

When Pax Dickinson got fired

http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/09/10/pax_dickinson_business_insider_cto_forced_out_for_sexist_racist_tweets.html

For being racist and misogynistic on twitter, it seemed to me a little much, but it was justified to me (convincingly enough) on the grounds that
(1) It could be argued his public persona prevented him from doing certain aspects of his job (HR) properly – and looked bad for his employer
(2) Executives have different job protections
I still think it shows a cavalier attitude to job security and puts progressives on dodgy ground
(couple of things, if that had been his rhetoric at work I think its grounds for dismissal; if it had been written into his contract, likewise; and linking his employer to his opinions on twitter are also grounds for dismissal. But remoing all of those I cant see it being justified. And employment contracts, ideally, shouldnt have such a say over your private behaviour)

8

BenK 09.30.13 at 9:09 pm

For people who believe that the bill of rights was meant to constrict individual liberties rather than constrict the government, all this about the first amendment protecting employees in the workplace makes sense; it is a disaster that employers can’t be sued for hiring employees they like and/or trust.

9

Cian 09.30.13 at 9:22 pm

it is a disaster that employers can’t be sued for hiring employees they like and/or trust.

I think this may be my favourite straw man ever. The mangled syntax pushed it over the edge for me.

10

Walt 09.30.13 at 9:22 pm

I like how every application of power has its own euphemistic little name. The right of the rulers to coerce the obedience of the ruled to behavior unrelated to performance is “freedom of association”. It’s really one of the great achievements of libertarianism that it has mastered the art of wrapping each action of brute force as a “freedom”, when the all its adds up to in practice is the freedom of our masters to command, and our freedom to obey.

11

lemmy caution 09.30.13 at 9:32 pm

“I would prefer that we have a tight enough labor market and enough of a safety net that people can fire their employees and it really doesn’t burn them up too bad.”

A tight labor market cuts down on people getting fired for stupid reasons.

12

Rmj 09.30.13 at 9:38 pm

What if I explained that I connect the images at the top of this post (which I guess is from the TeeVee show) with Wonkette, and not a television show?

Could I then say I got fired for political speech?

Eh, worth a try. Well, actually, no, it isn’t. Employment lawsuits aren’t usually worth the effort, to be honest. Most lawsuits aren’t, when all is said and done. Maybe it benefits somebody else way down the line, but for the plaintiff? Pffft!

Took me a few years around the law to realize how worthless most lawsuits were. C’est la vie!

13

nick s 09.30.13 at 9:40 pm

I still think it shows a cavalier attitude to job security

Dickinson made public pronouncements that could be very easily construed as endorsing discriminatory hiring policies, thus placing the company in legal jeopardy.

Executives — even in startups — tend to be compensated against the possibility of being kicked out on their arses at short notice by somewhat generous exit packages.

14

mud man 09.30.13 at 9:41 pm

“freedom of association in the workplace” means that you can choose the people you work with on whatever basis you choose. Your basis is your private business. The problem is that here it is only the Boss that has the freedom. In other situations, can a brony start a call center that only hires bronies? Can a brony seek to be hired by such a place? Can a small town guy form a carpet-cleaning company that only hires homies, with understood requirement to attend all home football games? If it’s on the table up front? If not, whyever not?? Ask the question about a Christian workplace and see what happens.

I think if you try to regulate this sort of thing with Law, you end up replacing petty tyrants with tyrants not petty at all, not to mention creating new opportunities for abuse by people who like to file lawsuits, of whom there are many.

15

Nick 09.30.13 at 9:42 pm

The problem is that the majority of people have their own ideas about what ought to be disciplinable/fireable behaviour in the work place. Whether its racist views, sexist views (expressed on or off work place premises) or smokers, lots of people feel that people’s speech, beliefs or personal habits imposes some harm on them in some way.

I volunteer some of my time co-ordinating defences for people who are dismissed from work when their (not legally protected) minority sexual status is revealed to co-workers and potentially to clients. This is in the UK, where employee rights are more extensive than in many parts of the US. I know that employers (both in the public and private sectors) can be petty, vindictive, prejudiced and irrational in their decisions. But I don’t see a consistent alternative to freedom of association because I don’t think there is a rational way of deciding what ought to universally legally protected behaviour. Unions probably have a role to play in channeling freedom of association in a more egalitarian way but unions can be pretty exclusionary and prejudiced too.

16

Omega Centauri 09.30.13 at 9:44 pm

Mike @6, the American revolution was always about the wealthy landowners, not about the little people. So we define freedom -as the right of the powerful to do what they want.

17

Ronan(rf) 09.30.13 at 10:00 pm

nick s
re discriminatory hiring practices, there are ways of checking whether Dickinson was engaging in them (targets, checking whether he was doing that aspect of his job properly)

18

MPAVictoria 09.30.13 at 10:07 pm

There is a reason why I don’t post under my own name.

19

Manta 09.30.13 at 10:24 pm

nick@15, what about this rule: whatever you say or do outside your workplace is not the businnes of your employer, with the exceptions:
if what you do/say is illegal,
or if you are a PR flak, or similar (narrowly defined ) job.

And what Ronan said @7.

20

Frank Ashe 09.30.13 at 10:42 pm

For a couple of reasons I have stickers of the Flower Fairies on the loud of my laptop that I use at work. Nobody has said anything yet – I’ve done this for four years. I’m glad that here in Australia we are much more tolerant.

BTW I feel no need to post under a pseudonym – again the benefit of a free country.

21

Nick 09.30.13 at 10:45 pm

Manta : I think that well could be an improvement on the existing hodge podge of rules and exemptions but I can still imagine problems. Such a rule would probably rule out the ban on members of far right parties serving as police officers. It would mean that a social worker with antisemitic views (on twitter) could continue to work in majority Jewish areas.

22

Frank Ashe 09.30.13 at 10:48 pm

‘LID of my laptop’, not ‘loud of my laptop’

23

strophariad 09.30.13 at 11:07 pm

On MLP-fandom:

There’s now a community (with subreddit, wiki, webforum, and IRC channel) brought together for the creation of and interaction with imaginary friends so developed, often over hundreds of hours of daily effort, that they speak and appear, their hosts assert, with minds of their own, able even to surprise and change the lives of their makers, who’ve appropriated for them the Tibetan term tulpa. As those venues and this video introduction reveal, among the most popular templates for tulpas are MLP characters.

I don’t know how many MLP-tulpamancers are thirty-something fathers, but this intersection of interests suggests that MLP can be as transformative to the lives of its fans as Star Trek has been to trekkies, which may be why John de Lancie (Star Trek’s “Q”) narrated and executive-produced a recent documentary on bronies.

Of course this is no reason to fire anyone.

24

Main Street Muse 09.30.13 at 11:31 pm

A story in Gawker taking a look at an anonymous comment in Reddit does not a crisis make…

I really have to wonder if this really happened as the anonymous daddy would have us believe.

25

DaveL 09.30.13 at 11:36 pm

Manta @ 19. There are some exceptions to this. If you are an employee and post stuff on Facebook (etc.) mentioning your workplace, they had better approve of it or you are in trouble. On the other hand the elephant in the room, as previously mentioned, is “at will” employment. In most companies (or, from personal experience, every company I’ve ever worked for) employment maybe terminated by either party at any time for any reason, and the reason need not be stated. You may walk out the door or they may escort you out the door without any notice (although if you leave two weeks notice is “polite.”) You may disapprove of the free coffee, or they may disapprove of your screensaver, and there’s no recourse for either party. Things are different if you are in a union, I suppose, but no one in my industry (software) is.

26

DaveL 09.30.13 at 11:40 pm

I disapprove of replying to my own post, but I should add that being laid off as an “at will” can still lead to lawsuits if you can show it was for a reason that is illegal, such as sexual or racial discrimination. These are, however, hard and expensive to prove, even in egregious cases, and areprobably deleterious to your probability of finding another job.

27

SamChevre 09.30.13 at 11:53 pm

Corey Robin @ 4

SamChevre: Can you tell me what you’re basing this claim on: “Freedom of association is still the rule in most workplaces.”

Freedom of association means if I don’t want to be associated with you, I’m not required to–be my reasons good, bad, insane, public, private, or whatever. The “liberals” (in quotes, because it’s an illiberal position) have whittled away at this with anti-discrimination laws, but it is still generally the law.

28

Belle Waring 09.30.13 at 11:53 pm

Ronan(rf), you’re nuts if you think we could prove by using Pax Dickinson’s hiring practices whether he really was the horrible person he claimed he was, in public, constantly, in a way that he knew was meant to be representing his employer. Each individual hire is subjective, and someone will be able to argue, ‘no, this man was a better fit for this particular job.’

29

Consumatopia 10.01.13 at 12:02 am

Freedom of association means if I don’t want to be associated with you, I’m not required to–be my reasons good, bad, insane, public, private, or whatever. The “liberals” (in quotes, because it’s an illiberal position) have whittled away at this with anti-discrimination laws

No, they haven’t. If the boss doesn’t want to associate with an employee that can’t be fired, the boss can resign.

That’s the exact same freedom of association the employee has–if you don’t like people in a place, you can go find a new place.

30

Corey Robin 10.01.13 at 12:03 am

SamChevre: Ah, then we are in agreement. We both agree that employers are generally allowed by the law to discipline, punish, coerce, fire — sorry, associate with — people for whatever reason they like.

31

Ronan(rf) 10.01.13 at 12:10 am

Belle
But if it’s company policy to have a more diverse work force, and they set certain targets (more women, more non whites etc) and the HR department fails to meet those targets, then that could be used as the reason to fire him?
I’m not fully committed to this argument, (as I dont really know how a company’s hiring practices generally work), but surely if a business values a diverse workforce then it’s on them to put in place the procedures, develop the culture in the organisation etc to make it happen (part of that would be making sure targets etc were met) He could still do his job properly while being a racist misogynistic idiot (who also happens to think his employers aims are ridiculous )
(I’m not sure its relevant to Dickinson though who, afaicr, wasnt fired on those grounds (?) )

32

Ronan(rf) 10.01.13 at 12:13 am

..as an addendum, I’m not trying to argue Dickinson wasnt the horrible person he clearly was..but just if that’s going to be the reason for firing someone it should have to be proveable from the job he’s doing, rather than speculattion from the opinions he holds

33

Chris Morrow 10.01.13 at 12:14 am

I do feel like schools/companies should be able to fire people for being racist/sexist even outside the job (especially — maybe only — if those employees have any power over anyone else). This makes me conflicted, since I’m opposed to the particular firing discussed on this page, and to other firings like it. (Including, eg, firing someone for being a Republican or a Scientologist, even though I could never be on board with those worldviews.)

A simple way to resolve this would be to say “Racism and sexism are bad and should be phased out of society, while ponies are just fine and conservatism is least tolerable,” but then how far do I extend that? I do still support the free-speech rights of bigots, after all. It’s not like I think there should be a Master List of Banned Thinking, that would clearly be wrong.

Maybe it’s precisely because I have a generally strong pro-free-speech attitude when it comes to the strict government-enforcement sense that I find myself in favor of firing bigots — because firing is a punishment, and (possibly) an ethically acceptable punishment that sends the message. Hmm. I dunno.

Regarding weirdness: I pondering the “Little League” example and realized that unlike this MLP thing (which I don’t personally “get” but am not bothered by either), I really would be bothered by a grown man being obsessed with Little League if he didn’t have any relatives-or-similar participating in it. I guess because it directly involves actual children, and whereas the creators of MLP are aware of their audience, the average Little Leaguer probably wouldn’t be comfortable with some stranger tracking their baseball career. Huh. (I would not support firing that hypothetical person, of course, nor would I consider him any likelier to abuse children than someone else.)

34

Carl Weetabix 10.01.13 at 12:20 am

It’s hard to explain to my Swiss wife, that yes, yes, our employment system is *that* screwed up… It comes up on many topics.

And Switzerland isn’t exactly the bastion of liberalism on the European continent.

35

Substance McGravitas 10.01.13 at 12:24 am

I’m not trying to argue Dickinson wasnt the horrible person he clearly was..but just if that’s going to be the reason for firing someone it should have to be proveable from the job he’s doing

He included his Twitter account in work-related material, ergo the Twitter account constituted a part of the job he was doing.

36

Ronan(rf) 10.01.13 at 12:28 am

Yeah, and I think thats fair enough as a reason. But if he hadn’t, and was still publicly the man he was just with the caveat ‘all opinions expressed on twitter are my own’, should he have been fired (he still would have been, Id imagine)

37

Main Street Muse 10.01.13 at 1:15 am

I still feel that Fired Brony person is inventing an interesting story for why he was let go. I’m a little surprised so many are taking this rather weak source as valid – no questions asked. (Wouldn’t fly as a reference for the students in my classes…)

For those of you who defend a person’s right to tweet whatever the hell you want as a “private person” – what do you think of the Steubenville tweets, FB photos, etc. of people laughing, chortling, documenting the rape of a HS girl? Should these publicly shared tweets NOT be used in a case against the rapists because they’re the private expressions of those people?

Here’s what Pax said, according to the linked article:

“Women’s suffrage and individual freedom are incompatible. How’s that for an unpopular truth?”

“Men have made the world such a safe and comfortable place that women now have the time to bitch about not being considered our equals.”

“This election will be decided by single women. It’s an epic battle between ‘Jungle Fever’ and ‘Daddy Issues’.”

“In The Passion Of The Christ 2, Jesus gets raped by a pack of niggers. It’s his own fault for dressing like a whore though.”

A man so publicly misogynistic and racist – one does not have to “speculate” on his personal opinions. They’re out there in the big wide world for all to see.

38

Dr. Hilarius 10.01.13 at 1:33 am

I’m an attorney and while I don’t do employment law I try to maintain a basic familiarity with the area, partly out of a general interest in how fucked up class relations are in this country.

Unless you have a contract or union agreement to the contrary, employers are generally able to fire an employee for any or no reason at all. The exceptions are firing people for membership in a protected class; race, religion, age (with huge qualifications), national origin, or gender. But unless the employer is a total idiot who hands out a pink slip saying ” fired for being black” or similar, proving unlawful discharge is difficult to impossible.

Weirdly enough, despite at will employment being common, many people just can’t believe it to be true. There is a serious disconnect between what workers think the law is and what it is in actuality. It’s not rare for me to encounter someone who is anti-union but outraged about being fired for what’s perceived as an unfair reason.

And “freedom of association” is just libertarian cant for racism.

39

JW Mason 10.01.13 at 1:34 am

I suppose arguing with libertarians is pointless, but it’s worth noting that firing is not the same as not hiring. Just like a legal obligation to support the children you have is not the same as a law saying that you must have children.

Even if I am under no obligation to hire you, I am obliged to honor the terms of the contract once I have. And it’s always true that the scope of allowable contracts is defined by law, and that contracts include implicit as well as explicit terms — not every eventuality can be specified in advance. Once a contract is signed, there is nothing illiberal about expecting its terms to be honored. If either the law or social norms say that an employer can only terminate an employment contract for cause, then that’s what the contract says.

40

JW Mason 10.01.13 at 1:36 am

(Of course Corey is right that in the US that’s not what they say.)

41

Anarcissie 10.01.13 at 2:37 am

It’s odd that the word ‘socialism’ is nowhere to be found in this discussion.

Mama may have, papa may have,
But God bless the child that’s got his own.

42

christian_h 10.01.13 at 2:53 am

Crooked Timber blogger: x happened to y, this is outrageous and oppressive.

Commenters: we can’t be sure x happened, in particular to y. You don’t speak Swiss German/ the source is suspect/ I wasn’t there.

43

AWB 10.01.13 at 4:02 am

23: I hope I’m not missing this in the thread, but John de Lancie got involved with the Brony documentary because he was cast as the voice of the amazing (and Q-like villain) Discord on MLP:FiM. I started watching the show when I had norovirus last winter, having gotten a little weirded out by the adult fandom, but it turns out the show is really amazing, and one of the few in any genre that I’ve ever seen to take friendship seriously as a set of moral and social problems, other than, perhaps, Golden Girls.

44

adam.smith 10.01.13 at 4:09 am

Should these publicly shared tweets NOT be used in a case against the rapists because they’re the private expressions of those people?

well, obviously, anything you say publicly can be used against you in a court of law when it’s relevant to the alleged crime, but that’s hardly the question here.

To add some real world examples about employment protection. In Germany, which has one of the strongest systems of employment protection for full time regular employees, it is pretty much impossible to fire someone for any statements not made at the workplace, unless they’re direct and severe personal insults to the employer (criticism, even public, is not enough). At the workplace, only a grave dereliction of duties (like stealing) allows for immediate termination, most other infractions (like constant tardiness) require a written warning. In other words, firing Dickinson would likely not have been legal. Not to speak of MLP guy.
It is also, btw., extremely difficult to fire someone simply for being bad at her/his job (after the probationary period of 1 year is over). This hasn’t actually caused a pandemic of incompetency at German workplaces. (These protections do not cover a significant and increasing share of employees and that’s a major problem but also a different topic).

45

GiT 10.01.13 at 4:21 am

Does German law treat executives officers differently than other employees in those regards?

46

adam.smith 10.01.13 at 4:29 am

No. On a practical level, a lot of times if a company wants to get rid of someone in higher management they negotiate a severance package as part of a “mutually agreed” termination, but the person is still protected by the same employment protection laws.

47

adam.smith 10.01.13 at 4:39 am

actually, let me specify this a bit more:
1. executive officers who are able to directly hire/fire employees can be terminated pretty much without cause, though they have the right to severance pay as determined by a court
2. other reasons for terminations tend to be more easily justifiable for executive officers, especially those for economic reasons, which can include restructuring the company. Those, too, require severance pay.

48

GiT 10.01.13 at 4:57 am

Thanks.

49

AJ 10.01.13 at 5:21 am

I have heard that you can even be fired for a false reason. Is it true? Here is the story I have heard.

A woman was fired for smoking marijuana. She said she wasn’t. She was smoking cigarettes. They fired her. She sued them. The court said that an employer can fire an employee even for a false reason. The court sided with the employer.

50

AJ 10.01.13 at 5:39 am

Here is the link to a website which says that this story is basically true:
http://www.toplawfirm.com/employmentlawFAQs.html

It looks like, in America, any employer can always fire you at any time as long as there are no contractual obligations to keep. Here is a fail-safe way for any company to do it. By law. Just say : “Employee E made extremely derogatory statements about the company on his Facebook page and so has been fired.” Then, fire employee E. The reason does not even have to be correct. The employee does not even have to have a Facebook. All they have to do is to say later that, well, actually, it was just the way he combed his hair that caused him to be fired.

Absolutely bizarre. In other words, they can fire you at any time for any reason, no reason or even a wrong reason. It is very important for people to know this, and I don’t mind repeating it over and over again. That is what “at will” employment means.

The worst thing is that some of the people most likely to benefit from a change in the law are also the people most likely to be opposed to any changes in the law.

51

adam.smith 10.01.13 at 6:37 am

I’m not sure why you’re so up in arms about the “false reason” thing. The whole point of at-will employment is that you don’t need any reason. You don’t need to make up a story about Facebook. The fail-safe way to fire someone is to say: “sorry, we’ll have to let you go”.
That’s one of the many reasons why unions are so important in the US and their decline such a tragedy. In continental Europe, workers are protected by laws, even when they’re not covered by collective agreements. The US system of industrial relations was designed during the New Deal, assuming that most workers would be in unions, so most protections are assured by collective agreements. (That’s why technically collective labor rights are relatively strong in the US, except that weak/hostile NLRBs, negligible fines, conservative courts, and aggressive employer union-busting strategies have undermined these laws).

52

Manta 10.01.13 at 7:12 am

I remind a blog post at LGM about a similar topic, but with a very different take:
http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2013/09/free-speech-and-employee-rights

53

Tim Chambers 10.01.13 at 9:33 am

The guy sounds like a creep to to me. It’s no wonder he makes others uncomfortable. I wouldn’t want him going near my daughter. If I were his boss in that situation, I would fire him, too.

54

Manta 10.01.13 at 10:38 am

Thanks Tim for exemplifying why we need rules to prevent bosses from becoming petty tyrants.

55

MPAVictoria 10.01.13 at 11:08 am

“The guy sounds like a creep to to me. It’s no wonder he makes others uncomfortable. I wouldn’t want him going near my daughter. If I were his boss in that situation, I would fire him, too.”

Because he likes a cartoon? Hell, I like cartoons! Should I be fired?
/I mean for reasons besides my obvious incompetence.

56

Jonathan H. Adler 10.01.13 at 11:19 am

There are some efforts to move the law in a direction to prohibit this sort of thing. See, for instance, this en banc decision from the Fifth Circuit handed down in just the last week:
http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/11/11-30770-CV2.wpd.pdf

For those who don’t want to read several dozen pages, here’s a summary:
http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/harassed_for_being_unmanly_en_banc_court_sees_title_vii_violation_dissent_s/

FWIW, this is more disturbing that Brony-ism:
http://www.threedonia.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Kiss-X-Hello-Kitty.jpeg

57

Trader Joe 10.01.13 at 11:54 am

As noted above, at will employment doesn’t need a reason.

That said, employers don’t usually just roam the halls firing people for “no reason.” If the guy was some sort of ace at his job and not readily replacable, they’d find a way to keep him around. More likely than not he was average at best. Maybe his peculiarities were a distraction to either his own work or for other employees.

Unspoken in the article, since it would tend to make it less interesting, is whether the guy was ever counseled to tone it down, remove the screen saver or whatever other factors were at play. A workplace computer is not “your” computer, its your employer’s and the employer has every right to define what screen saver you use or any other bit of minutiae related to their equipment. Its doubtful the brony background was the only straw on this camel’s back.

Unions do help with these issues – but unions have their own particular “clubisms.” You’d have to know more details as to whether a union would have gone to bat for this guy or found their own way to ‘ease him out.’ On the details presented alone, they’d have probably protected him – depending on if there’s a “rest of the story” maybe not.

58

Ronan(rf) 10.01.13 at 12:17 pm

“If the guy was some sort of ace at his job and not readily replacable, they’d find a way to keep him around. More likely than not he was average at best.”

Ah Trader Joe, I like your posts around here, but this one just aint right. If they want to fire him for being mediocre then let them fire him for being mediocre.
The implication that there’s one set of rules for the ‘aces’ and another for the rest strikes me as deeply unfair
Agreed on unions though. Which (imo) is why protections enshrined in law, a strong welfare state and slow moves towards a post work society are the best l/t goals

59

Hector_St_Clare 10.01.13 at 12:23 pm

This is off topic, but why does everyone refer to the show by its full title (including the ‘Friendship is Magic’ bit)?

I’m in accord with whoever said the best way to deal with this stuff is to have a low unemployment society. Which the government can actually do something about.

60

Hector_St_Clare 10.01.13 at 12:32 pm

Chris Morrow,

Since no doubt you consider me a sexist, do you think my employer should be encouraged to fire me?

61

Walt 10.01.13 at 12:37 pm

Hector: Because there were previous versions of “My Little Pony”.

62

Trader Joe 10.01.13 at 12:49 pm

@58
What I meant by that comment was – he says he was fired for being a brony and that may well have contributed to the decision. What he really might have been fired for was being mediocre and the whole brony thing is just his own juicy rationalization.

Its like the baseball coach that benches a player for being over weight, not hustling and striking out too much who then says “so you benched me for being fat.”

My point on ‘aces’ is that top performers, right or wrong, earn themselves a little more leeway in their behavior. We’ve all seen and can readily name examples of this – my comment reflects realism, not idealism.

63

Ronan(rf) 10.01.13 at 12:52 pm

“my comment reflects realism, not idealism.”

We need to go back and read our Bruce Hornsby

64

rea 10.01.13 at 1:37 pm

Since no doubt you consider me a sexist, do you think my employer should be encouraged to fire me?

It depends on your behavior in the workplace. If you express you sexism in the workplace, your employer has some legal obligation to prevent your behavior from creating a hostile work environment for your women co-employees. I would hope you are controllable by measures short of discharging you.

But of course, you phrase your question in terms of what the employer should be “encouraged” to do. If you are a US at-will employee, the employer can fire you simply because she doesn’t like you.

65

Dave Maier 10.01.13 at 3:03 pm

AWB @ 43: I’m a big fan of John de Lancie, and he would be awesome as the voice of a cartoon villain, but even so I have to say MLP is a hard sell for me. But at least my opinion of it just went up a bit.

66

AF 10.01.13 at 3:07 pm

. . . except for Montana, where employers must have just cause to fire workers. I am not aware that workplaces are all that different in Montana than elsewhere in the US. Perhaps they are and this is simply not widely known. Or perhaps the Montana wrongful discharge law is underenforced. Or perhaps it is rare for employers to fire workers without a legitimate business reason, even where doing so is legal. My hypothesis would be the latter, but I don’t know.

It seems to me that as long as the basic structure of the employment relationship remains in place — ie, with employees obligated to carry out objectives determined by management — the distinction between at-will employment and a requirement of just cause is not very great. Even in at-will jurisdictions, employers rarely fire workers unless they fail to adequately carry out management objectives; and in just-cause jurisdictions, that is considered just cause. Altering the balance of power in the workplace would seem to require a good deal more than eliminating at-will employment. And an enforcement mechanism other than the civil justice system.

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mpowell 10.01.13 at 3:19 pm

Regardless of what happened in this situation, it is true that most US jurisdictions have at-will employment. This is substantially more convenient for employers. This does lead to some unfair firings. These are limited by what an employer can get away with before getting a bad reputation, especially in a healthy job market. Of course, if your interests are not socially accepted you probably won’t be protected by reputation concerns and you might not be protected by your union either. Regardless, at-will employment definitely has its down sides. On the other hand, it probably allows for a lower structural unemployment rate. I don’t know what the impact is, it might be quite small, it might be appreciable. You can’t ignore this issue. Ultimately, I doubt a majority of US workers are unhappy with this arrangement. I’m not even sure there is a false consciousness aspect to it.

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Rmj 10.01.13 at 3:55 pm

On the other hand, it probably allows for a lower structural unemployment rate.

Not nearly as good as it looks. Gov. Goodhair down here in Texas loves to brag about the low unemployment rate (not all that low, but he still brags about it). What he doesn’t brag about is the fact the average income is also very low, which means people are working at-will (and in Texas that means explicitly anti-union) for low wages and if you don’t like it, somebody else will take your place and you can leave right now.

Granted, at-will ain’t necessarily connected to low wages (in the classic causal analysis of a necessary connection), but then, that’s sort of my point…..

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adam.smith 10.01.13 at 4:02 pm

the evidence that higher employment protection causes higher structural unemployment is between weak and non-existent:

“the evidence of the role played by EPL (employment protection legislation) on aggregate employment and unemployment rates remains mixed”

(OECD Employment Outlook 2004 as cited in Freeman, R. B. “Labour Market Institutions Without Blinders: The Debate over Flexibility and Labour Market Performance.” International Economic Journal 19, no. 2 (2005): 129–145. Which has a good overview over debate & evidence more generally.)

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JW Mason 10.01.13 at 4:57 pm

On the other hand, it probably allows for a lower structural unemployment rate.

There is empirical research on this question, you know. And the answer seems to be, No it doesn’t.

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Trader Joe 10.01.13 at 5:26 pm

Adam and JW
Aren’t those studies primarily concerned with cross-national EPL- wherein differences in labor markets, saftety nets and cultural factors might influence the conclusions. I don’t doubt the conclusions of comparing say the EU or Germany with the U.S. or Canada – but as a practical matter labor isn’t really mobile across borders while it is at least somewhat mobile across states.

Are you aware of any studies that are – say, within the U.S. that show the same type of evidence when comparing say “Right to work states” of Texas, Virginia and Florida to more protected states such as Illinois, New York or California?

A quick glance down a column of unemployment statistics over the last 10+ years would suggest there is something at work- whether its simply “at will” laws or something more complex I don’t know.

72

Anarcissie 10.01.13 at 5:30 pm

‘That said, employers don’t usually just roam the halls firing people for “no reason.”’
All you capitalism fans might be amused to know that I once had a manager, who, when he assumed power, fired all the people in his purview who smoked pipes. (This was back in the day when you could smoke in the office, so it was a long time ago.) He explained to me, with a humorous twinkle in his eye, that people who smoked pipes were always fiddling with them, loading them, emptying them, cleaning them, and gesturing with them, and therefore could not get any work done. Now, these were computer programming jobs back when employment in that field was raging, so getting fired probably just meant getting a raise, but still.

Another interesting case, much more recent, was that of a colleague, who had been fired from his previous mid-managerial job at a major brokerage house for hiring too many colored people. He was a crank-libertarian type who found that he could get talented people at less cost by hiring them young and differently pigmented, and when they warned him about his unseemly practices — these were technicians, but they were near the front office where things need to be pale — it just got his back up and did it more. So out he went. He became a contractor and when I last saw him was saving up his money to buy or build a gun-nut range or store.

We wouldn’t have any of these entertaining stories if it weren’t for capitalism and freedom of association.

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mpowell 10.01.13 at 5:47 pm

JW Mason @ 70:

That’s definitely not what the paper concludes. It concludes that a lot of the research that purports to demonstrate a strong relationship has problems with data inputs and variable selection, possibly driven by biases to confirm theoretical models. And it also question the cause/effect relationship. What that means is that the empirical evidence in support of my claim is much weaker than it was thought to be in the mid 90s, say. That’s fine. I would expect it to be very difficult to extract empirical evidence for this kind of claim given that unemployment is driven by so many different factors (and many difficult to measure). One conclusion to draw is that we don’t really know much. My perspective is that for theories that are persuasive to me, I’m willing to use words like probably to describe their implications.

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heckblazer 10.01.13 at 6:18 pm

Since this is the US there is a fair amount of jurisdictional variation, so some states are more at-will than others. A majority of states have an implied contract exception. This theoretically allows an employee to sue for breach of contract if they’re fired arbitrarily, but proving the contents of an unwritten implied contract can be dicey. A few states like California also recognize an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. One attorney I worked for summarized that as “you can fire someone for any reason except a bad one”.

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Manta 10.01.13 at 6:27 pm

mpowell@73:

you are the one claiming a casual relationship: either produce the evidence, or retract the claim.
Otherwise, I will claim that there are pixies on Alpha Centauri, and when you object I will simply say that “we don’t really know much.”

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heckblazer 10.01.13 at 6:28 pm

Anarcissie @ 72:

Most states except for around half a dozen or so have a public policy exception. If the state also has a public policy against racial discrimination in employment, which IIRC they all do, then you can’t be fired for not being racist when hiring people. Since you say he worked at a brokerage house I’m guessing he was in New York. New York is one of those half-dozen states that do not have a public policy exception.

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adam.smith 10.01.13 at 6:39 pm

@71 Trade Joe,
well, which is relevant depends on what your normative and policy goal is. I think there should be federal regulation of labor law just as there is for environmental law (to some degree at least) to prevent race-to-the-bottom effects. Sure Delaware has attracted a lot of banks. But is that really a sign that it has the best bank regulations once we take into account externalities?

But for your question about studies: The literature on Right to Work is surprisingly thin and mostly ideological determined. Given the history of RTW legislation, you can obviously not just compare unemployment numbers any more than you can look at GDP/capita per state and conclude that RTW makes states poorer.
The most relevant high-quality study for your questions is:
Autor, David H., John J. Donohue, and Stewart J. Schwab. “The Employment Consequences of Wrongful-Discharge Laws: Large, Small, or None at All?” The American Economic Review 94, no. 2 (2004): 440–446.
ungated at: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/4981078_The_Employment_Consequences_of_Wrongful-Discharge_Laws_Large_Small_or_None_at_All/file/9fcfd50e326ec79bff.pdf
They find a small but statistically significant negative effect (<1%) on the employment/population ratio of implicit contract rules that make firing harder (other rules, like a public policy exemption have no such effect). I find their empirical argument plausible and I have a lot of respect for David Autor's work as a labor economist, so I'm inclined to believe that, but there article replicates two other major studies, one that finds zero effects and one that finds effects in the ~4% ballpark.

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Anarcissie 10.01.13 at 6:54 pm

@76 — You don’t put ‘insufficient racism’ on the record. One of the ways of getting rid of people you don’t want is to accumulate them in a ‘department’, ‘team’, ‘project’, etc., and then discontinue it, thereby laying off its contents. In the case I mentioned, they just got rid of the department or whatever they called it altogether, since it was improperly populated. More recently, I was working at a company that decided to get rid of most of the old people (expensive, cranky, health problems, cynical, harder to fool). In order to do this they hired a lot of young, low-wage Green Card workers and then, some months later, laid off the old people along with the recently hired young people because there had been a ‘change of plans’. Statistically, they weren’t kicking out just old people, but the office sure looked different post-massacre.

‘Outplacement’ is an art and there are many clever tricks.

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mpowell 10.01.13 at 7:05 pm

Manta @ 75: I used the word probably for a reason. Either you agree or you don’t. I’m not interested in trying to prove it to you. I think it’s a likely effect that people should consider, but if someone doesn’t agree they don’t have to and I don’t really care. It’s not like this is a strange idea that doesn’t have any traction within the academy. The idea that we could resolve an important issue in econometrics in the space of this comment section is absurd (not that I don’t see people make this kind of demand all the time).

80

Manta 10.01.13 at 7:14 pm

OK, mpowell: we can agree that whether there are pixies on Alpha Centauri is too difficult a question: at most I can say that probably there are pixies there, but the space in this comment section is too small to really delve into it.

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Trader Joe 10.01.13 at 7:23 pm

@77
Thanks Adam.smith. I’ll have a more detailed read of it. Seems like maybe some small negative effect, but not the tsunami of unemployment carnage a rugged invidualism capitalist would have you believe.

Its actually a little surprising there isn’t more work on it given the factionalism that the topic seems to create between proponents and opponets.

I agree with your point on a normative goal. My question was more along the lines of if this the question concerns +/- effect on employment of laws that make firing more difficult in the U.S (where the OP case occured)….the solution set should really focus primarily on U.S. based data where we can assume similar levels of labor mobility, legal environment, back to work support etc. in differentiating between the outcomes created by policy.

Thanks for checking into it. I appreciate your diligence.

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Joe Strike 10.01.13 at 7:46 pm

Adults and guys watch Pony because it’s a damn good show: funny, well-written and beautifully animated:

http://www.awn.com/blogs/miscweant/ponies-and-bronies

83

Tim Worstall 10.01.13 at 7:47 pm

“And “freedom of association” is just libertarian cant for racism.”

Good God.

Seriously?

In English English freedom of association is taken to mean the freedom to join together with whom you wish for whatever reason whatsoever: as long as that reason itself isn’t actively illegal.

It is, for example, the legal freedom to form unions. Or co-ops. Or a pidgeon fancying club. Peeps want to get together to do whatever they have a presumptive right to do so. It is, along with the freedom of speech (subject to libel etc) one of the two basic freedoms of any form of a liberal society.

This is just cant for racism?

Blimey.

84

Shatterface 10.01.13 at 8:05 pm

I’m a huge Doctor Who, Marvel comic and Gerry Anderson fan. Luckily I have Asperger’s so I’m kind of protected if people give me any shit about it. Obssessional interest and a degree of neoteny comes with the package.

85

Shatterface 10.01.13 at 8:07 pm

Otherwise, I will claim that there are pixies on Alpha Centauri, and when you object I will simply say that “we don’t really know much.”

There are no pixies on Alpha Centauri – the small furry creatures ate them.

86

Main Street Muse 10.01.13 at 8:16 pm

“More recently, I was working at a company that decided to get rid of most of the old people (expensive, cranky, health problems, cynical, harder to fool). In order to do this they hired a lot of young, low-wage Green Card workers and then, some months later, laid off the old people along with the recently hired young people because there had been a ‘change of plans’. Statistically, they weren’t kicking out just old people, but the office sure looked different post-massacre.”

I’ve seen this quite frequently – it’s disgusting – it’s a common business model to get rid of the more expensive employees – and it’s wrong for a company to do this – though I do not believe there are repercussions for doing this.

But this is different than firing someone for going on a rant publicly on Twitter, like the Business Insider CTO. I don’t understand why acting like a jack-ass in the office or on twitter is something an employer should ignore – and why behaving like a misogynist is protected behavior in the work place.

(I still don’t believe the Brony guy was fired for his Little Pony obsession. No proof, really, other than the word of an anonymous Redditor.)

87

Manta 10.01.13 at 8:29 pm

Muse: “But this is different than firing someone for going on a rant publicly on Twitter”:

Suppose your boss discover that behind your nick there is you, and he doesn’t like your comment “I’ve seen this quite frequently – it’s disgusting – it’s a common business model to get rid of the more expensive employees – and it’s wrong for a company to do this – though I do not believe there are repercussions for doing this.”

Do you think he would be justified in firing you? After all, the comment in question does reflect quite badly on the company where you work.

88

Main Street Muse 10.01.13 at 8:52 pm

To Manta,

1st) an employer so intent on outing this Muse… that’s an employer with a lot of time on his hands. I tend not to work at such places.

2nd) I’ve never actually worked for this type of employer. (Let’s just say I’m not Jack Welch/GE material) However, I lived in a corporate habitrail before moving to the weirdest state in the nation and this happened to my middle-aged neighbors with alarming frequency – at large multinational companies run by CEOs who got rather large sums of money to focus on this kind of cost-cutting all the time.

An employee who openly used “n******” in a workplace or other public area (as the BI CTO did on twitter) is opening himself up to be fired. Or do you think that’s appropriate and defensible?

I also disagree with the notion that those who hate their employers have nowhere else to go. I do not believe employees are slaves to one employer… But likely on Crooked Timber, that’s a minority opinion.

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Fat Fatty McFat 10.01.13 at 9:58 pm

Dude’s a manchild, and so are a large portion of the people who have commented on this article. That cartoon is CLEARLY made for small children. To base your identity around a goddamn cartoon that’s made for LITTLE BITTY KIDS (not even older kids, like 3-7 years old) when you are a man in your 30s is fucking pathetic. And don’t say he didn’t base his identity around that shit, because if he didn’t, he wouldn’t have been called out of that shit multiple times at work. I would have fired him, too.

90

adam.smith 10.01.13 at 10:43 pm

An employee who openly used “n******” in a workplace or other public area (as the BI CTO did on twitter) is opening himself up to be fired. Or do you think that’s appropriate and defensible?

I don’t need to think something should be appropriate or defensible to think that it shouldn’t be a fireable offense.
As long as it happens outside of the workplace, people should be able to be a member of the communist party, the nazi party, even the libertarian party and not lose their jobs because of it. And I don’t have to believe that employees are “slaves” to share the belief of pretty much every leftist thinker since, I don’t know, Adam Smith that labor is not a “good” like any other good that you may or may not choose to buy or sell on some mythical free market.
People’s livelihoods do depend on earning a wage and putting that at the whim of a boss very much restricts their freedom.
I don’t know the details of the Dickinson case well enough to have an opinion on it, butI don’t think someone should be fired (fireable!) for writing racist and/or sexist things on a non-work twitter account.

91

Main Street Muse 10.02.13 at 12:55 am

“People’s livelihoods do depend on earning a wage and putting that at the whim of a boss very much restricts their freedom.”

In the Business Insider story, a man in the C-suite publicly and repeatedly used offensive and degrading language about minorities and women. He should be fired. Non-work twitter accounts are in a very wide public domain. News articles were written about his rather eye-opening chatter. He was not arrested for this language. His tongue was not sliced off for using this language. He was not jailed for using this language. And let’s remember – he remains free to use that language. Business Insider remains free to say they don’t want someone that vile on their staff.

Tell me how many people are fired for party affiliation today… And no, please don’t show me anonymous Reddit stories blown up in a Gawker profile about a nameless dad fired for his My Little Pony infatuation.

92

Dr. Hilarius 10.02.13 at 1:17 am

Tim@83: Calm down, context is everything. In this discussion and similar it’s a phrase invoked to make non-discrimination in employment and public accommodations appear a burden on freedom. In non-libertarian hands it has a broader, more gracious meaning. That doesn’t invalidate its dog-whistle meaning.

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parse 10.02.13 at 1:43 am

Or is it the hint of pedophilia? If so, would you be nervous if a grown man had a passion for Little League or superhero comics? Enough to fire him?

What is the pedophilia is more than a hint? In 2000, the New York City Board of Education dismissed a teacher of 25 years standing because he was a member of NAMBLA. Absent any allegations he’d done anything illegal, his firing was upheld by a Federal court that rejected his appeal to freedom of association.

I thought it was a lousy decision, but I remember at the time many people were outraged that it took years of due process before the Board succeeded in ousting him. Union membership counted for something, though ultimately not enough.

I remember working with activists concerned that New York would pass a law against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation without including protection for transgendered an gender non-conforming workers. A couple of us tried to get the group to make a simple demand for legislation aimed at discrimination based on any factor not related to emloyment. I was surprised that even on the left edges of NYC’s LGBT community, it was hard to find support for that idea.

94

js. 10.02.13 at 1:44 am

MS Muse 88/90:

An employee who openly used “n******” in a workplace or other public area (as the BI CTO did on twitter) is opening himself up to be fired. Or do you think that’s appropriate and defensible?

In the Business Insider story, a man in the C-suite publicly and repeatedly used offensive and degrading language about minorities and women. He should be fired. Non-work twitter accounts are in a very wide public domain.

If you stress the corner office bit, I would agree with you; otherwise this seems rather problematic.

I think the Dickinson firing was justified insofar as a reasonable case could be made (as I think it could) that his obviously deeply racist and sexist attitudes would have a direct impact on his ability to properly perform his job (e.g., whether he could be relied on to be fair in hiring/firing decisions, evaluating the work of those who worked under him, etc.)

But the idea that one should be allowed to (or encouraged to) fire anyone who expresses sexist and racist views outside of and unrelated to the workplace seems extremely problematic. Imagine that rather than Dickinson, it’s an assembly line worker, or a back office clerk, with racist/sexist attitudes who has a Twitter account and airs his deeply offensive views on there. I maybe wouldn’t want to have very much to do with this person. But I would most definitely also want his boss not to have the power to fire him because he aired offensive views outside of the workplace.

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adam.smith 10.02.13 at 4:49 am

@MSM – if you don’t think people are getting fired for crazy things in the US, (re-)read the old BGR post for plenty of court-documented examples: http://crookedtimber.org/2012/07/01/let-it-bleed-libertarianism-and-the-workplace/

I’d rather err on the side of not firing people – I don’t get why firing people is so popular far into the US left. And yes, that’s going to mean a couple of unsavory people get to keep their jobs. I can live with that.

96

TW Andrews 10.02.13 at 7:12 am

I definitely disagree that this guy should have been fired, but it seems pretty obvious to me that the discomfort stems from a belief that grown men who show an overt interest in things targeted to pre-pubescent girls set off the mental “pedophile alert” for lots of folks.

I mean, I’ve got two daughters, the older of who likes MLP, and though I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a brony, it’s a pretty entertaining show, and I could imagine watching it in the absence of my daughters (given sufficient free time). But I would definitely find it a bit weird to for a grown man to have a MLP image as his computer desktop. Clearly not worth taking someone’s livelihood over, but if I were a manager, I’d pull him aside and gently mention that it’s something he might not be appropriate in a professional environment. And being honest, I’d look carefully for signs he might be someone who takes advantage of young kids.

97

TW Andrews 10.02.13 at 7:15 am

Having read the article, seems like it’s just the boss being an asshole–nothing more than that. The sports analogy is pretty apt.

98

Philosofatty 10.02.13 at 8:00 am

It seems obvious that the right social project is to try to reduce the costs of job loss due to a misdiagnosis of what is in fact benign nonconformity, and then independently work to normalize that kind of nonconformity (such as it needs it), rather than revoke a manager’s authority to determine, over a period of months and apparently two attempted interventions, that his adult male employee’s continuing advertised membership in the My Little Pony fetish community is creepy (or maybe even just adversarial) in a way or to a degree that seriously impacts that workplace.

99

Mao Cheng Ji 10.02.13 at 8:08 am

Maybe there could be a way to optimize this. Suppose you can be fired for any reason or no reason whatsoever, but you’re awarded (by an independent arbiter) an amount of severance pay reversely proportional to the validity of the reason. No reason: two-year salary. This (OP) reason: 23 months salary. Getting drunk at work and insulting a customer: $0. Would this work?

Could still be a problem when they want to get rid of someone with a huge amount of unvested stock options. I’ve seen that happening.

100

Matt Heath 10.02.13 at 8:35 am

The bit in the Mail’s editorial about “the jealous God of Deuteronomy” is a bit yucky too, isn’t it?

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Matt Heath 10.02.13 at 8:37 am

ugh wrong thread! Damn you, tabbed browsing!

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Manta 10.02.13 at 9:56 am

@98
membership of the wrong party: benign nonconformity or fireable offence?

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Michael.K 10.02.13 at 4:53 pm

If political speech is protected, could he campaign for My Little Pony? Propositon 17: Friendship is magic!

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Matthew 10.03.13 at 3:31 am

Most major US cities do have employment protections that go beyond the excruciatingly few federal protections. But, given the tendency of cities towards sprawl, its exceedingly to move your business out of the city and have basically no restrictions.

Additionally, most large employers have legally binding employee handbooks or codes of conduct that usually specify numerous employee protections not required by law. In these cases, an employee can sue for breach of contract even if the company technically did not violate any laws.

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