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Twitter Storms, Flash Floods, No Jobs

By Elizabeth Torphy-Donzella - Shawe Rosenthal LLP

August 8, 2018

The incessant rain on the East Coast, interspersed with weird calms of blue-sky sunniness, are jarring in ways that make one reflect.  What I reflect upon these days is the speed with which people’s careers are destroyed, like a burst of rain displacing the sun, when they do something stupid that in “my old days” would fade away.

The Harvard Executive Director of Humanitarian Initiatives who in a fit of uncivil pique demanded that a woman and her toddler daughter in her apartment complex stop playing in the yard because her children were trying to nap.  In making her demands, she asked the woman (who had a biracial child) if she was “one of the affordable units or Harvard units.” As if that were a class of personhood.  She also, when the woman would not answer her question as to her name and her unit, suggested she (Ms. Harvard Humanitarian) would stand outside her (the mom of the biracial child’s) window yelling when her child was trying to sleep.  (Ms. Harvard Humanitarian did try to assure the toddler, who screamed, that she was sorry to be talking in such a scary fashion, but her mommy was being mean.)  A video of Ms. Harvard Humanitarian was posted on social media by the mom of the yard-playing-not-sleeping-child.  It went viral (as they say).  Ms. Harvard Humanitarian was “placed on leave” after Harvard reiterated its core values of respect for universal human rights. She may be gone by today.

There was also the woman who in a nonchalant gesture of uncivil pique shortly after the inauguration of Donald Trump flipped the bird as the POTUS motorcade passed by her as she was cycling in NOVA (that’s “President of the United States” and “Northern Virginia” for you who don’t know all those federal acronyms).  She was not placed on leave.  She lost her job.  According to her, she was forced to resign for her “free expression of her views.”  She is suing.  Good luck to her with that. No First Amendment rights in the private sector (I know – it continually surprises!).

Social media can be savage.  Businesses on the wrong side of a twitter storm – angry social justice warriors on the left, angry MAGA hat-wearing patriots on the right (see Red Hen Restaurant ejects Sarah Huckabee Sanders from dinner at their establishment) – can be paralyzed by the backlash: threats, jammed phone lines, crashed websites, trashed Yelp and “Angie’s list” reviews.  After all, do you really want to do business with today’s version of Stalin or Hitler – or someone who employs an individual in their image???  And sometimes, the “worm turns” and the “twitter mobber” crosses a line, and ends up mobbed, out of a job, and driving food delivery (see “I was the Mob Until the Mob Came for Me.”).

I uphold the right of private sector businesses to terminate for any reason or no reason at all, so long as it is not an illegal reason (at will employment).  I believe that unfettered right advances an economic system that is good, if not always fair. I also understand, having lived in small towns, that you ‘flip the bird’ at your peril.  The person you “dis” on your drive to work may be across from you in a meeting when you get to your destination. (Living in small towns is a good check on rash behavior, btw).  Yet, I pine for an era when a bad day, a bad outburst, a bad judgment call, could wash away with a few “Our Father’s” and “Hail Mary’s.”  When one could be forgiven, when acts could be forgotten, and there was no such thing as personal devices or posting online.  That era is gone.  Act accordingly.

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