#Discrimination in 140 Characters or Less

On Behalf of | February 12, 2015 | Employment Discrimination

Earlier this week, news broke that Jeb Bush’s recently-hired Chief Technology Officer, Ethan Czahor, had been purging his Twitter account. What was he trying to delete? Around forty-five sexist, homophobic, and otherwise offensive tweets. Buzzfeed has a good sampling of the deleted tweets, but I’ve pasted two below for your reading pleasure:

“When I burp in the gym I feel like it’s my way of saying, ‘sorry guys, but I’m not gay.’”

“Most people don’t know that ‘Halloween’ is German for ‘night that girls with low self-esteem dress like sluts’”

Mr. Czahor, equal opportunity discriminator that he is, also apparently made racist comments during a college radio show.

Czahor tried to salvage the situation, tweeting: “I deleted some old jokes I made years ago that I no longer find funny or appropriate. #learning #maturing.” But more and more news outlets picked up the story and on Wednesday night, Czahor resigned: “… and I’ve resigned my role at Right to Rise. Best of luck to everyone there, and I apologize in advance to whoever fills my position.” How nice he is to apologize to his successor. Perhaps he might also consider apologizing to the numerous people he degraded in his tweets.

Putting aside Czahor’s indelicate response, Governor Bush’s handling of the whole debacle presents problems of its own. When the tweets first came to light, Governor Bush’s response was lacking. His office released the following statement: “Governor Bush believes the comments were inappropriate. They have been deleted at our request. Ethan is a great talent in the tech world and we are very excited to have him on board the Right to Rise PAC.” To clarify, that statement means: 1) the proposed “solution” was to bury the problem rather than actually tackle it; and 2) Governor Bush, presidential hopeful, was still willing to back Czahor, despite his blatant bigotry.

Unfortunately, whether problems arise at work or online, employers are all too often ready to sweep bigotry and other issues under the rug. For example, as my colleague David Tracey recently wrote, most employers completely fail to address domestic violence despite the fact that it affects so many people and results in millions of dollars’ worth of lost work. Similarly, as discussed on this blog by Marissa Abraham, some employers would rather force employees to resign than remedy discrimination.

In Czahor’s case, it was because of intense media scrutiny and public pressure, not because of action by Governor Bush, that he faced consequences for his behavior. Most victims of workplace discrimination may not have ready access to a media arsenal. What they do have, however, is legal protection. Derogatory jokes like those tweeted by Czahor often fall within the EEOC’s definition of harassment. This means that employers have a legal obligation to put an end to this type of “humor” so that all employees feel comfortable and safe.

Rather than let the moment pass, employers should learn from Governor Bush’s bad example. They should take the Czahor incident as an opportunity to reinforce their anti-discrimination policies and remind employees of their rights. How is that for #learning and #maturing?