June Y. Chu, the Dean of Pierson College, one of Yale's residential colleges, was placed on leave a month ago after her rude and inappropriate Yelp reviews came to light. Yale announced that she has permanently left the position. Chu officially resigned, but this resignation undoubtedly wouldn't have happened had she not written the offensive Yelp Reviews.

Chu's problems began when the Yale News published screenshots of her Yelp reviews. Chu wrote, among other things, these things:

  • I guess if you were a white person who has no clue what mochi is, this would be fine for you.
  • To put it quite simply: if you are white trash, this is the perfect night out for you!

After these reviews came to light, Chu apologized saying, "My remarks were wrong.There are no two ways about it. Not only were they insensitive in matters related to class and race; they demean the values to which I hold myself and which I offer as a member of this community."

What about free speech?

Yale is a private institution, and the first amendment applies to governments--federal, state and local. So, a state university would be a different situation than Yale. You don't have the right to free speech at work. There are some things that are protected, such as discussing working conditions, but Chu wasn't doing that.

Additionally, as the dean of a residential college, Chu needed to set an example for students. Yale certainly doesn't want students to think their leaders think of them as "white trash." Amy X. Wang, writing at Quartz, wrote: "Given that Chu has a Ph.D. in social psychology, she perhaps should have seen the backlash coming." Wang is right--this indicates that Chu couldn't see the consequences of her statements, which she should have seen coming. Remember, even if you don't write under your full name, everything you put on the internet can be traced back to you if someone cares enough.

Do you have to always be nice on social media?

Of course, you should be. This doesn't mean you have to agree or like everything, but you just need to be nice. While your bosses certainly shouldn't set out to monitor your social media accounts, if things like this come to light, you should be concerned for your job. Racial discrimination is illegal in employment, and your boss can reasonably assume that if you are using prejudiced and discriminatory language on the internet, you'll be inclined to use that at work.

Sometimes rudeness is protected speech. Employment Attorney Jon Hyman detailed a case where an employee won a claim after his employer fired him for posting "Bob is such a [redacted] don't know how to talk to people!!!!! [Redacted] his mother and his entire [redacted] family!!!! what a LOSER!!!!"The difference is, Hyman explains, was that Bob was his boss.

Unfortunately for this employer: 1) the company was facing a union election two days later; 2) this employee supported the union; and 3) he ended his post, "Vote YES for the UNION!!!!!!!"

Because Chu's posts were not in any way, shape or form a discussion of her working conditions, and weren't directed towards any of her co-workers, this is not protected speech when she works for a non-governmental organization.

Should you fire employees for their social media posts?

Mostly, you should actively avoid your employee's social media accounts, but when something comes to your attention, you need to decide how to proceed. Does this reflect poorly on your business? Is it likely to be public? How bad and offensive was it? Is it covered as protected speech because it's related to working conditions? When in doubt, consult your own employment attorney. It's always better to spend the money to ask your lawyer before you act than it is to have to pay your attorney to fight a lawsuit.

What can you do to avoid making the same mistake?

My Inc. colleague, Justin Bariso, gave some practical tips on how to make sure you don't fall into the same trap as Chu. Check out his tips.

Published on: Jun 22, 2017