GitHub founder put on leave after harassment claims

Faith Merino · March 17, 2014 · Short URL:

Julie Ann Horvath became the first GitHub engineer to quit last weekend after 2 years of harassment

So it looks like if you’re being harassed at work and want something done about it, you need to publicly blast your company on Twitter and TechCrunch to effect any change. The more you know.

Over the weekend, Julie Ann Horvath became the first GitHub engineer to quit the company and took to Twitter to state unequivocally that she quit after two years of harassment. She followed that with an email to TechCrunch, in which she described an increasingly sexist workplace, a spiteful male coworker who systematically ripped out her code without explanation, and bullying by the wife of one of the founders—all of which went ignored for over a year.

Late Sunday evening, GitHub CEO and cofounder Chris Wanstrath responded to the allegations by saying the company has launched a full investigation of Horvath’s claims. Additionally, the cofounder in question and the engineer accused of sabotaging Horvath’s work have both been placed on leave while the investigation is ongoing, and the wife of the cofounder (who was never a GitHub employee to begin with) has been barred from the office.

“As painful as this experience has been, I am super thankful to Julie for her contributions to GitHub,” wrote Wanstrath in a blog post. “Her hard work building Passion Projects has made a huge positive impact on both GitHub and the tech community at large, and she's done a lot to help us become a more diverse company. I would like to personally apologize to Julie.”

Horvath thanked Wanstrath and her other GitHub coworkers for their support, but noted that the company has known about her complaints for over a year and failed to act until now. GitHub could not be reached for comment on the delay, but it seems likely that if the company has already taken the step of putting the founder and the engineer on leave, it’s because it already knew what was going on.

GitHub’s three cofounders include Wanstrath, PJ Hyett, and Tom Preston-Werner, who stepped down as CEO earlier this year.

Horvath’s complaints include the usual: general sexism, lack of respect from her predominantly male coworkers, and an overall feeling of being unwelcome. She joined the company in 2012, and things escalated when the wife of one of the cofounders invited Horvath out for drinks. Horvath said that what started out as a casual conversation quickly devolved.

“She began telling me about how she informs her husband’s decision-making at GitHub, how I better not leave GitHub and write something bad about them, and how she had been told by her husband that she should intervene with my relationship to be sure I was ‘made very happy’ so that I wouldn’t quit and say something nasty about her husband’s company because ‘he had worked so hard.’”

The as-yet-unnamed wife of the cofounder went on to tell Horvath that she is responsible for hires at GitHub and employs spies inside the company. She also claimed to be able to read employees’ private GitHub chatroom logs, which only employees are supposed to have access to.

Word spread through the grapevine and got back to HR, and eventually the cofounder in question, who called Horvath in for a talk. Horvath says the cofounder called her a liar and accused her of threatening his wife. He also called her own relationship into question and said that she was exercising bad judgment by dating another GitHub employee (Horvath has been in a committed relationship with a fellow GitHub employee, who is still employed at the company).

Meanwhile, despite the fact that Horvath was in a known relationship with another GitHub employee, a male coworker made advances that Horvath rebuffed. The coworker then began ripping out Horvath’s code from projects they had worked on together without explanation.

“I even had to have a few of his commits reverted,” Horvath said. “I would work on something, go to bed, and wake up to find my work gone without any explanation.”

Things continued to get worse as the wife of the cofounder began sitting beside Horvath and glaring at her. Horvath took her complaints to another founder, who was “sympathetic” and promised to address the situation. But the situation continued to escalate until the cofounder’s wife was “in my face at my work station verbally attacking me.”

Eventually, Horvath gave up on GitHub and quit altogether, a move which was precipitated by a scene at work in which a female coworker and her friend were hula-hooping to some music while a line of male coworkers sat down to watch them, as if at a strip club.

Horvath said via Twitter: “I had to permanently alter my career path and risk personal safety and further harassment for there to be action taken,” adding: “Nothing will be resolved on my end until both of those men are asked to step down.”


Support VatorNews by Donating

Read more from our "Trends and news" series

More episodes