GitHub walks back Jewish employee’s termination for using “Nazi” on Slack

GitHub office with GitHub logo over top
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GitHub has backpedaled after dismissing a Jewish employee for using the word "Nazi" in an online conversation about the Capitol riots. Executives posted an apology over the weekend, and the company’s head of HR has resigned.

The company had dismissed an unnamed employee who posted a message on a company Slack channel during the riots at the US Capitol building on January 6. The message warned: "stay safe homies, Nazis are about," along with a sad emoji.

After a complaint from another worker about the employee's use of the word, his manager and an HR representative fired him. According to a Business Insider report, they cited "patterns of behavior" without further detail.

The firing generated a heated debate among GitHub staff. According to reports, 200 employees circulated a letter internally asking for clarity on the employee's dismissal. The letter also called for GitHub to take a strong stand against white supremacists and antisemitism.

The employee told Business Insider that as a Jew with family members who died in the Holocaust, he was genuinely worried about the presence of neo-Nazi groups in the Capitol, which were documented repeatedly during the riot.

GitHub's chief operating officer (COO) Erica Brescia walked things back in a statement posted to the GitHub blog on Sunday. The company called in an independent investigator on January 11 who revealed "significant errors of judgement and procedure," she said. Brescia added that, consequently, GitHub's head of HR resigned on January 16.

The company also reversed its decision to fire the employee and contacted his representative, Brescia said. She also reiterated statements that CEO Nat Friedman made internally to staff when the investigation began.

"GitHub condemns the attack on the US Capitol on January 6th and any and all belief systems that are discriminatory. Antisemitism, neo-Nazis, and white supremacy – along with all other forms of racism – are vile and have no place in our community," she said.

"Employees are free to express concerns about Nazis, antisemitism, white supremacy or any other form of discrimination or harassment in internal discussions," the statement added. "We expect all employees to be respectful, professional, and follow GitHub policies on discrimination and harassment."

In a series of tweets posted on Saturday and reproduced in several outlets, GitHub's senior director of global HR services Gia Colosi commented: "GitHub was my forever job but not anymore. I am done with HR be kicked around [sic]".

She added: "We don't magically fire people unless we find back up. And if only leadership asks us [sic]. So to be clear why does HR take the fall?"

Colosi has since hidden her posts.

Microsoft, GitHub’s parent company, responded to other political criticism from employees this month when workers called it out for donating to politicians who contested the election result.

This is the latest big tech firing that prompted calls for more tolerance and diversity. Last month, Google CEO Sundar Pichai apologized for the company's split with AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru, who insists that the company fired her for a paper that questioned its AI operations.

Danny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury has been a print journalist specialising in technology since 1989 and a freelance writer since 1994. He has written for national publications on both sides of the Atlantic and has won awards for his investigative cybersecurity journalism work and his arts and culture writing. 

Danny writes about many different technology issues for audiences ranging from consumers through to software developers and CIOs. He also ghostwrites articles for many C-suite business executives in the technology sector and has worked as a presenter for multiple webinars and podcasts.