Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.
SA has been gone for a while, but with TAM 2013 rearing its head, I thought that it would be time for SA to walk in out of the gloom. Frankly, I have been purposefully trying to ignore most of the Skeptosphere lately, with LindsayGate spawning yet another in a long series of vile orgies of self-importance, nitwittery, and self-reverence by Skepchick and Freethought Blogs. It makes a reasonable skeptic, one who wants to, as Ronald Reagan would have put it, “handle conflict by peaceful means,” despair. But then I saw a couple of stories in the blogosphere today that made me want to pop my head out of the underground bunker that is Skeptical Abyss’ own personal abyss and comment to a candid world.
The first story that caught my eye was this one, published on the Skeptic Ink blog. Apparently, a former employee of American Atheists is suing the organization for racially-based employment discrimination and wrongful termination. I say “apparently” because I have been unable to find any reference to the lawsuit outside of the original blog post, and have not been able to see the actual complaint that the former employee filed in New Jersey state court, nor have I been able to see the answer that AA filed, and because of this I will not refer to the employee by name. As a (now former) human resources professional, this story caught my eye for a number of reasons. According to the Skeptical Ink post, the employee’s court complaint started with allegations that I would describe as a claim against AA for creating (or tolerating) a hostile work-environment on account of race:
The suit alleges that [the employee] was “forced to listen to various racial jokes and was subjected to unprovoked, unwarranted, vicious and persistent verbal attacks on everything, including her competence.” It claims “unfounded complaints” against her competence and that this was in spite of excellent performance, citing “dramatically” increased donations which it was her job to solicit.
There are actually a number of claims at issue here, the most serious being that she was “forced to listen to various racial jokes.” Racial jokes. In the workplace. Go ahead and set a baseline level of “dumb,” and then take a long look down from there and you will see racial jokes in the workplace. I take no position on whether this actually happened, but from my (now former, alas) life in human resources, I don’t doubt it. Not for a second. You are probably thinking to yourself, “but SA, the people at AA are intelligent, progressive, modern professionals, there is just no way that they would allow something as mind-bogglingly stupid as racial jokes to be uttered in a workplace environment.” And to that I say humbug! I have seen smart people, educated people, people with initials after their names indicating educational attainment, say the most stupid, racist, sexist things in workplace environment. Until you have lived in the HR bubble, you have no idea how much this goes on, everywhere, day after day. You want to look at people you work with and say “really, you thought it was okay to say that, are you a freaking moron?” So, just because it is AA involved, there is no reason to discount the story out of hand. Additionally, the blog post does not indicate the individual, or individuals, who uttered the alleged racial jokes. They could have been non-employees (such as donors, or conference attendees) that the employee was required to interact with. The employer can, under some circumstances, be liable for a hostile work environment caused by third parties if the employer is aware of the conduct and does not take steps to alleviate it.
The next thing is the “vicious attacks on everything, including her competence.” To that SA says “meh.” Under US employment law, an employee can be subjected to vicious (one assumes this is a figurative use of the word “vicious” and that there was no actual physical violence involved) attacks at work, including attacks on one’s competence, without having grounds for a lawsuit. It is only if such attacks are based on a legally impermissible basis (i.e. race, gender, religion, national origin, etc) that they give rise to a legitimate lawsuit. Because New Jersey is a strict at-will employment state, even if the employee was subjected to unfair treatment, it would not be legally actionable, unless the unfair treatment was based on a discriminatory reason.
Then we get to the real meat, the allegations of wrongdoing:
The filing seeks redress for wrongful termination under a New Jersey whistle-blower protection law which applies to employees suffering retaliation for objecting to a policy or practice that they “reasonably believe is a violation of the law, or a rule or regulation promulgated, pursuant to law.” The suit alleges that [the employee] confronted [supervisor's name redacted] in June of 2012 about “what she believed to be evidence of him using organizational funds for personal trips.”
According to the law at issue:
An employer shall not take any retaliatory action against an employee because the employee either (1) discloses, or threatens to disclose to a supervisor or a public body an activity, policy or practice of the employer or another employer, with whom there is a business relationship, that the employee reasonably believes is in violation of a law, or a rule or regulation promulgated pursuant to law; (2) provides information to, or testifies before, any public body conducting an investigation, hearing, or inquiry into any violation of law, or a rule or regulation promulgated pursuant to law the employer or another employer, with whom there is a business relationship; or (3) objects to, or refuses to participate in any activity, policy or practice which the employee reasonably believes (a) is in violation of a law, or a rule or regulation promulgated pursuant to law; (b) is fraudulent or criminal; (c) is incompatible with a clear mandate of public policy concerning the public health, safety, or welfare or protection of the environment.
Without seeing the complaint, this claim seems kind of weak to me. Certainly a fellow employee stealing from a charitable organization would be contrary to law, but unless the supervisor was beyond-the-pale stupid in using organization funds for personal use, this seems like a very difficult claim to prove. Still, as a wise old attorney said to me when I was much younger, “the day you are served with the lawsuit is the day you lose the case.” Those are true words. AA will have to expend precious resources paying for the services of an employment lawyer, and that ain’t cheap. Plus, they will get bad publicity out of this alleged act of employment discrimination.
The second story I saw today was the latest Rebecca Watson fiasco. Apparently Becky is dissatisfied with the response that the CFI Board had to LindsayGate, in that they did not engage in the desired full kowtow to Her Sagacity, and if you know Becky, anything other than a full kowtow is tantamount to high treason. CFI did Becky the courtesy of inviting her to their second Women In Secularism Conference. Predictably, Her Sagacity took offense to something someone said about something banal (the speaker was Ron Lindsay, and in my opinion he is incapable of saying anything this is not banal–as lawyers would say res ipsa loquitur). She (or her sycophants–it is so difficult to tell them apart) called upon CFI to abruptly cashier Mr. Lindsay, or take other appropriate action equivalent to a full kowtow, or at any rate to do something that would emotionally satisfy Her Sagacity and her sycophantic followers on Skepchick. And now she is calling for a boycott of CFI. That’s right, you sycophants of Her Sagacity, she wants you to stop donating money, stop going to events, cancel your subscriptions to Skeptical Inquirer, the fully monty. If it were not so predictable it would be funny. As it is, it is little more than a bad joke. One wonders about the competency of the CFI staffer who got the bright idea to invite Her Sagacity to the second Women in Secularism Conference in the first place. Remember Becky’s previous denunciation and public denouncement of DJ Grothe and the James Randi Educational Foundation because DJ failed to perform the aforementioned full kowtow to Her Sagacity? After the JREF brought Becky to TAM year after year after year, all expenses paid? Once Becky launched her anti-JREF campaign, any organization inviting her to a conference was itching for their own denunciation and call for a boycott with eyes wide open. And yet CFI inexplicably invited Her Sagacity to the second annual Women In Secularism Conference. In my opinion, CFI got exactly what it deserved from such a boneheaded move, with interest.