Jill Abramson, the first female executive editor of The New York Times wants you to know that there is no shame in being fired.
Ms. Abramson was terminated back in May after 17 years with the paper and two and a half years as executive editor. The Times won a record number of Pulitzer Prizes under her watch. Based on many factors, including a “T” tattoo on her back, Ms. Abramson’s commitment to the Times was beyond question. Instead, the reason given for her termination was her brusque management style. Several articles have been published citing anonymous Times staffers’ detailed opinions about her management style, many of whom utilize distinctly gendered critiques which would not be likely to be applied to a male executive editor. For example, she was criticized by anonymous sources for being “not a naturally charismatic person,” “not generally approachable,” and “condescending” in an oft-quoted (and oft-criticized) April 2013 article.
The New Yorker detailed an alternate reason for Ms. Abramson’s termination—one that smacks of pay discrimination and retaliation. Reportedly, after Ms. Abramson learned about pay and resulting pension discrepancies between her and her male counterparts, her lawyer made “polite inquiries” about these discrepancies, “which set them off.” This report is particularly concerning because unequal pay based on gender is unlawful, as is retaliation for protesting such unequal pay.
In the wake of Ms. Abramson’s termination, many articles have been written about the generally sexist culture at the Times. For example, Slate ran a piece detailing this culture and Ms. Abramson’s buoying effect on female staffers.
It seems likely that this culture contributed to the way Ms. Abramson’s management style was evaluated by her colleagues and publisher.
Ms. Abramson has recently broken her silence and offered some candid insights into her termination—insights that we, as employment discrimination attorneys, think are very important to share. On the issue of her termination, she stated:
We hope Ms. Abramson’s words will provide strength to others who have been terminated. We know, from representing countless individuals who have lost their jobs, that being fired can be a traumatic event in one’s life. Our clients who have been fired have usually never been terminated before. They fear that the termination on their employment record will forever haunt their future job interviews. They often feel a deep loss and a sense of betrayal. It is difficult for anyone who has been terminated but it is especially hard for those who have been terminated unlawfully, like Ms. Abramson (potentially), for protesting unlawful discrimination, or because of harmful gender, race, age, or disability stereotyping by their bosses.
It takes great courage to state publicly that you have been fired, and that is what our clients do every day. Of course, sometimes private, confidential settlements can be reached so that fired individuals do not need to publicly file anything. Likewise, in some circumstances, we are able to get clients’ records changed to reflect a layoff or resignation rather than termination. But sometimes, it is important to stand up publicly and protest wrongs. We are grateful to Ms. Abramson, for being a strong and encouraging voice on behalf of the many individuals who feel powerless at the moment of termination.
If you have been fired and you are worried that the termination wasn’t right, give us a call (415) 373-5333 or contact us through our website. We would be happy to talk to you.