Did a tech company illegally retaliate against a female employee who tweeted photos of men who offended her with allegedly raunchy jokes at a Silicon Valley programmers’ conference?

That’s the burning legal question that is being asked after the employee, Adria Richards, was fired a couple of weeks ago by SendGrid, an e-mail delivery company.

What happened: Richards was in the audience at the conference, known as PyCon, when she heard two men behind her making remarks that she considered sexually offensive. She snapped the men and sent their pictures out on Twitter, along with a rehash of their comments.

Four days later, her employer announced she’d been fired, not for complaining about the remarks, but because she “crossed the line” by “publicly shaming the offenders.”

What could employer do?
So was this retaliation? No, says legal blogger Jon Hyman at The Practical Employer, because her tweet wasn’t protected conduct. “Richards did not complain about illegal discrimination,” Hyman says. “She complained about boorish behavior by two individuals … outside of her employer’s … control.”

But another blogger, Eric Meyer at The Employer Handbook, noted that a discrimination/harasssment complaint by any “method or medium – even social media – is still a complaint” protected by law.

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