Woman Fired Over White Nationalist Views; Was It Legal?
Employee spotted in video at “alt right” gathering
Can you be fired for your personal views on race, even if you do not express
those views at work?
A vendor at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park is currently pondering
that question. The woman says she’s thinking about contacting a
lawyer after being terminated over her public support for the so-called
“alt right” movement, which espouses white nationalist views.
With the Internet and social media continuing to blur the lines between
private and public behavior, employees’ personal lives may be more
tightly scrutinized by their employers. That raises some interesting questions.
What are employees’ rights to freedom of expression after work hours?
And what about employers’ rights to disassociate themselves with
employees whose off-the-clock behavior may reflect poorly on the company?
Made a Name for Herself
Many Philadelphia Phillies fans knew her by her nickname: Pistachio Girl.
Emily Youcis had become a quasi-celebrity at the ballpark, best known for her
signature sing-songy product hawking during the games.
But Youcis’s local acclaim recently came under fire when video surfaced
showing her at a white nationalist meeting in Washington D.C.
Not long after that, Youcis says that her employer, Aramark, terminated
her. She says that she was told that her social media did not reflect
the company’s values. Youcis, who claims that’s never called
for violence or used any racial slurs, says that she is considering contacting
a lawyer to dispute her termination.
The question is, does she have a case? While we don’t know the specifics
of Youcis’ employment agreement, it’s probably very unlikely
that she could prevail in court.
Let’s talk about at-will employment. In general, at-will employment
means that employers have the right to terminate an employee at any time,
for any lawful reason, or for no reason at all, without legal consequences.
Employers are not required to give notice before termination.
From the employee side, at-will employment means that workers generally
have the right to quit a job at any time, for any reason, with or without
notice, without legal consequences.
Most states are considered at-will employment states.
There are, however, some exceptions to at-will employment. Generally, employees
who are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, who have signed
employment contracts, or who are civil service workers may be excepted
from the at-will employment doctrine.
Youcis was employed in Pennsylvania, which is an at-will state. Unless
she had an employment contract that stated otherwise, it’s likely
that she fell under the at-will doctrine.
At-will and social media collide
Although at-will employment does allow employers quite a bit of leeway,
it’s important to remember that it does not give employers a green
light to fire people indiscriminately. For example, employees may not
be fired because of factors that pertain to their age, race, religion,
or other protected categories.
In Youcis’s case, her employer may not have wanted to be associated
with her public support of the white nationalist movement. Even though
Youcis participated in those activities during her personal time, the
company may have feared that her views would reflect poorly on the organization.
The company probably also reasoned that retaining Youcis was a recipe for
future legal trouble. Having a vocal white nationalist on the books would
not look good for the company if it ever had to defend itself against
a racial discrimination claim in the future. Plus, Youcis’s presence
in the ballpark could’ve potentially served as a lightning rod for
confrontations among fans during ball games.
For more information, see this article from the New York Post.