Some Toronto soccer fans decided to have some fun at the expense of a female television reporter. To be a little clearer, some Toronto soccer fans decided to sexually harass a female reporter. To be completely clear, some guys who were at a Toronto FC match are complete assholes.
The reporter, Shauna Hunt, wasn’t about to just take the abuse. She confronted the harassers:
Growing visibly frustrated, Hunt eventually confronted some of the men after they shouted at her.
“Can I ask why you would want to say something like that?” she asked one.
“I feel like it’s quite substantial,” he said.
She asked another man how his mother would feel if she knew he spoke like that, to which the man responded, “Oh, my mom would die laughing, eventually.”
The men were yelling FHRITP, a sadly common invective regularly hurled at female reporters because too many neanderthals in our meme-ified society think it’s just so damned funny (and no, I’m not going to explain what it means, though I imagine you can guess what the F stands for).
It is, as anyone not poisoned by internet chauvinism can see, not funny. It’s not merely a joke, as so many argue. It is not a compliment. If you want to really parse this incivility, then the only conclusion is it’s a rape threat, leveled however ironically. The men who harassed Hunt–and the men who supported the harassment–have been duly shamed both on social media and in traditional media.
One guy even lost his $100K job:
“Regarding the incident at the Toronto FC game between a (CityNews) reporter and fans, Hydro One is taking steps to terminate the employee involved for violating our Code of Conduct,” said Daffyd Roderick, director, corporate affairs for Hydro One.
“Respect for all people is engrained in the Code of Conduct and in our Core Values and we are committed to a work environment where discrimination or harassment of any type is met with zero tolerance.”
Roderick identified the employee as Shawn Simoes, an assistant network management engineer who made $106,510.50 a year.
Simoes, the employee being fired by Hydro One, did not shout the previously mentioned phrase, but did speak to Hunt on camera after the incident occured. “It is f—ing hilarious,” he told the reporter.
Part of me thinks it’s fucking hilarious that he lost his job.
But I’m also concerned about this punishment. Simoes isn’t an executive for Hydro One (the provincial electricity concern). He isn’t a spokesperson or a PR flak. He isn’t the face of Hydro One. Nor is he an HR rep. He’s not the person that other employees have to feel comfortable approaching with issues of workplace harassment. There is no tie between his comments and his job duties.
To back up a bit, Ontario is not an “at will” jurisdiction. (I used to work in HR, and I had never even heard the term until reading about labour issues here at The League.) If you are going to terminate* an employee, you have to do it for cause, or you have pay severance. According to the Employment Standards Act, that’s a certain number of weeks pay for every year of service, but according to case law, it can mean years of pay as severance. Firing someone just for the hell of it can be quite expensive.
Hydro One, however, claims to have cause. They argue that Simoes violated their Code of Conduct. No doubt, this sort of thing would be inappropriate in the workplace, but it is not clear that the Code of Conduct applies to after-hours activities.
And it’s not clear that it should apply to after-hours activities. Sure, these men-children seem like pretty wretched people, and there’s no real reason to cry for them, but the question becomes, how much control over your private life does your employer exert.
(“Private” is kind of a funny term here, considering he was on television, but you get what I’m saying.)
For what sorts of personal activities should employees be fired? Sexually harassing a television reporter–or defending the sexual harassment–is a pretty wretched thing to do. What if he just yelled obscenities? What if he wrote a blog post defending the harassment? (Or wrote a blog post wondering whether the offender should have been fired?) What if he was just some angry MRA-type who shared such a blog post or the offending video?
Interestingly, I hadn’t even seen anyone identify him or link him with his employer until Hydro One outed him. This wasn’t a case of social media putting the screws to the employer and the employer reacting; this was the employer just deciding to fire a jerk.
What if this wasn’t even about sexual harassment, misogyny or the ways so many men make some women live under ever-constant rape threats? What if it was some other, more benign, political heresy? Some people won’t be friends with conservatives, should they be able to fire them, too? If a boss is a member of the NRA, does she get to fire those who support gun control?
FHRITP is a step far beyond most any other social or political faux pas, so I’m not asking anyone to haul out the pitchforks and head on over to Hydro One to demand Simoes be re-hired. But there is a reason why freedom of expression must be applied broadly. You may understand where it is appropriate to draw the line, but that does not mean the person in a position of power will. And eventually, you may be the one punished for what you say.
Interestingly, these buffoons may have also broken the law. The Kingston Police quickly jumped on the issue, tweeting out that the actions violated the criminal code.
— Kingston Police (@kingstonpolice) May 12, 2015
Naturally, this brings up more concerns regarding freedom of expression, but at least this would adjudicated in the criminal justice system, offering offenders a chance at defending themselves before being punished.
But maybe this is just the new reality. Maybe justice is moving from the courts to your office. Maybe this is just society creating a more dynamic, representative form of justice. Norms and customs have often been used to ferret out undesirable behaviour. This can be more effective and more fair than a blind lady with scales or an old man in a funny wig.
And in the end, a deviant received his comeuppance. The process may not have been perfect, and the implications should cause some concern, but if this helps to shut down FHRITP, there’ll be some good to come out of it.
If you really think FHRITP has absolutely nothing to do with sexual assault, this happened.
*”Terminate” is different than “lay off”. You can lay someone off if there isn’t sufficient work for them to do, but then you have to re-hire (or offer to re-hire) them once business picks up. In reality, this doesn’t happen. Companies don’t always rebound, and those laid off tend to get other jobs before the company might think of bringing them back.