On September 9 blogger NitashaTiku alerted the public to the twitter feed of Business Insider Chief Technical Officer Pax Dickinson, a man she labeled a "Tech Bro Nightmare." In the quoted tweets Pax expressed contempt for Feminism, made derisive comments about minimum wage workers, and a variety of lewd attempts at humor. The next day Business Insider stopped employing Pax Dickinson, publically stating that his tweets did not reflect their values. Nobody ever accused Dickinson of discriminating against them on the basis of gender, and the obscene nature of his tweets was not cited to justify his removal; rather, his political views were considered too much of a liability. Needless to say, the left seems happy about his dismissal.
Those celebrating his dismissal have inadvertently acknowledged the danger that it poses to free speech. Feminist blogger David Futurelle claims that Dickinson's tweets could be used against Business Insider in a lawsuit. When Chicago wanted to prevent Chick-Fil-A from opening in their city they pointed to the possibility of discrimination against gay employees. The possibility that political statements made by an employee outside of work could be used in an anti-discrimination lawsuit will have a chilling effect on free speech. While the First Amendment prevents outright censorship, it is still possible to threaten the livelihood of people because of their opinions. Since a jury could potentially interpret anything an employee says as evidence of a prejudicial mindset, employers might simply fire anyone who says anything controversial.
Companies have a legitimate desire to protect their image by requiring that employees in the public eye behave themselves, even outside of work. Pax Dickinson's tweets obviously don't fit with the public face a corporation would want to present to the world, but he was fired for his beliefs not the crudeness with which he expressed them. He was contemptuous of feminism and gender-based affirmative action, and that made Business Insider vulnerable in a sex-discrimination lawsuit. In their terse press release Business Insider didn't mention his profanity, or even offensiveness, but spoke of the value that Business Insider placed on diversity and reminded the public that they hired many women.
As previously stated, firms have a legitimate interest in protecting their image; but the major threat to free speech comes from the legal department, not the PR department. Past political statements should be inadmissible at trial, unless the defense first introduces evidence that they had a pernicious effect on the work environment. Gender-discrimination law should protect people from discrimination, not enrich lawyers and kill free speech. Attacks on the free speech of employees are just as much an attack on worker's rights as discrimination itself.