When an employee of GitHub was fired after alluding to the fact that Nazis were out and about in Washington, D.C. on Slack on the day of the assault on the U.S. Capitol building, as Business Insider reported on Tuesday, coworkers rallied to his defense, appealing to the Microsoft-owned company. The decision was reversed with an apologetic statement from GitHub on Sunday.
In the statement, GitHub CEO Nat Friedman condemned the attack on the Capitol, noted that there were indeed “Nazis and white supremacists” amid the insurrectionists, and added that employees are “free to express concerns about Nazis, [anti-Semitism], white supremacism, or any other form of discrimination or harassment in internal discussions.”
GitHub’s head of human resources resigned Saturday, according to GitHub’s Sunday post. The company’s statement added that the now-former exec takes personal responsibility for the decision to fire the employee who raised concerns about “Nazis” in D.C.
“I did not know that, as a Jew, it would be so polarizing to say this word,” said the unnamed employee in a Slack message to fellow Jewish employees during a disciplinary meeting, shown to Business Insider.
Fellow GitHub employees lobbied for the fired individual. Around 200 employees signed an open letter to management that questioned the reasons for the termination and called for GitHub to take a stand against anti-Semitism and white supremacy.
In 2019, around 150 GitHub employees signed an open letter asking the company to stop working with the maligned Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE has been responsible for the reprehensible and unlawful detention, harassment, assault, and death of untold numbers of individuals in the United States.
GitHub has maintained its contract with ICE.
“The tech industry can be very insular,” the terminated employee said in a final Slack message to coworkers. “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.”
With other tech companies including Twitter and Facebook taking stances against the recent actions of far right extremist supporters of Donald Trump and followers of QAnon by banning people from their platforms (including the president), GitHub’s initial approach to its employee’s comment was a noteworthy departure. The subsequent retraction of the termination and condemnation of the assault on the Capitol is a step in the right direction, but the fact that it had to be corrected to begin with is concerning at the very least.