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Software developer fired after challenging sexual jokes at conference

1:22 PM, Mar 22, 2013   |    comments
Adria Richards
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(USA Today) -- A software developer was fired Thursday after she tweeted a photo of a fellow conference attendee who made sexual jokes she overheard and considered offensive.

SendGrid, a firm that develops cloud-based e-mail service, fired developer evangelist Adria Richards because the company doesn't "support how she reported the conduct," CEO Jim Franklin said in a company blog post.

Richards' tweeted a photo she took of the man who made jokes she considered inappropriate and sexist. The jokes were overheard at the PyCon conference Sunday - a gathering of software developers who code in Python language. The unidentified man was also fired, says Andy Yang, PlayHaven CEO, but his former boss declined to name him.

As the seventh anniversary of Twitter's founding is celebrated, the firing of both workers is the latest cautionary tale generating heated debate online and repercussions against participants in the social media universe. The episode also raises ethical questions about whether private conversations in public settings are fair game for social media.

Richards said the man's sexual innuendos using technology terms - about dongles and "forking the repo" - offended her, but she acknowledged that she did not confront him before tweeting the photo and remarks. After seeing her tweet, PyCon staffers escorted the man from the conference hall.

"To be clear, SendGrid supports the right to report inappropriate behavior, whenever and wherever it occurs," Franklin wrote. "Her decision to tweet the comments and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line. Publicly shaming the offenders - and bystanders - was not the appropriate way to handle the situation."

Richards couldn't be reached for comment. She didn't refer to her firing Thursday on her Twitter account, where she has been issuing and receiving messages regarding her her initial tweets of the jokes.

While many defended her tweets, Twitter messages that Richards and her supporters posted also show that she had been criticized, threatened and cyber-bullied by people who disagree with her decision to tweet a photo of the man who made the jokes.

"Three things came to me: act, speak and confront in the moment," she wrote in her blog. "I decided to do things differently this time and didn't say anything to (the person) directly. I was a guest in the Python community and as such, I wanted to give PyCon the opportunity to address this."

According to online news site TechCrunch, the unidentified, fired employee issued an apology with a blog post on Hacker News. That it really was the fired worker who wrote the post couldn't be verified.

"First of all, I'd like to say I'm sorry," the post said. "(Richards) had every right to report me to staff, and I defend her position."

The person who posted the apology wrote that that the joke about dongles was made, but denied that the term "forking" was used in a sexual context.

The post said: "I was let go from my job today, which sucks because I have three kids and I really liked that job. (The person who tweeted my photo) gave me no warning, she smiled while she snapped the pic and sealed my fate."

His employer, a company that helps mobile game developers distribute and promote their products, confirmed that his jokes led to the decision to fire him.

"PlayHaven had an employee who was identified as making inappropriate comments at PyCon, and as a company that is dedicated to gender equality and values honorable behavior, we conducted a thorough investigation," Yang wrote in a company blog. "The result of this investigation led to the unfortunate outcome of having to let this employee go."

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