Can you fire an employee whom you learn is “alt-right”?

Pistachio

What the heck do pistachios have to do with the Alternative Right also known as the “alt-right” or white nationalists?

Well, multiple news outlets, Philly.com (here) among others, are reporting that Emily Youcis, better known to attendees of Philadelphia Phillies games as “Pistachio Girl,” is out of a job.

According to Samer Kalaf at Deadspin.com, it was Ms. Youcis’s appearance in a video at a high profile alt-right meeting in Washington DC that increased her notoriety:

Youcis appeared in a video of a Nov. 19 anti-fascism protest of white supremacist Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. She walked around with a microphone (NSFW) and asked if anyone wanted to have a discussion; a brief fight broke out near her but nothing else really happened.

And then, Ms. Youcis was fired. Without identifying Ms. Youcis by name, her former employer made this statement:

“A core Aramark value is treating everyone with integrity and respect always. That includes respecting our associates’ right to privacy and dealing with personnel matters confidentially. We can only confirm that the individual asked about is no longer employed after publicly connecting our company to views that contradict our values.” 

According to the Philly.com report from Mari Schaefer, Ms. Youcis acknowledged that she is “the individual asked about”:

In an interview with Red Ice TV (NSFW), an internet outlet that promotes white identity politics, Emily Youcis, 26, said she was terminated by Aramark after being told  her social media activities supporting white nationalist ideas do not reflect her employer’s values.

This tweet seems to confirm it:

So, does an employer have the legal right to fire an employee for her White nationalist views?

At least one court has held (here) that a white supremacist belief system could be a religion and, therefore, be protected under Title VII. However, that same court cited the EEOC’s position on the Ku Klux Klan, where it concluded that the KKK is a political and fraternal organization, and not a religion. Therefore, there would be no Title VII protections based solely on membership in the alt-right.

But, regardless of whether the employer has a technical right to fire the employee, as I blogged a few years ago regarding a similar situation, your inquiry should not focus on whether you risk a lawsuit from the offending employee. Rather, your primary consideration must be the rest of your workforce, your customers, and your brand.

That is, what would hurt more? Firing the employee and defending the lawsuit? (Assuming the employee can find an attorney to represent her). Or doing nothing and feeling the pain when/if:

  • The offending employee offends a co-worker and that co-worker sues you.
  • Your customers stop purchasing your product because you support a white nationalist instead.
  • The media kicks the you-know-what out of you for essentially condoning hate speech.

Put in those terms, that’s a fairly easy decision.

“Doing What’s Right – Not Just What’s Legal”