As tech companies across the U.S. struggle with their consciences, one local tech employee says she has fallen on her sword for her principles.
Tech-enabled shipping and fulfillment company ShipBob recently fired an employee for protesting its shipment of “Make America Great Again” hats, I’ve confirmed.
ShipBob, a Chicago-based startup, fired employee Fayola Perry from its South San Francisco location after she called out the company for shipping the iconic President Donald Trump-supporting red hats in mid-August.
Perry, 26, called out the company on Twitter, sharing video of the hats in its South San Francisco warehouse that garnered some 8,800 views by September.
“They represent a threat to so many different types of people, all represented in the staff of its various divisions,” Perry tweeted of her company.
ShipBob, which just raised $40 million according to the Wall Street Journal, would not comment on Perry’s firing as it is a personnel matter, a company spokesperson told me, leaving us solely with Perry’s recounting of events. In a statement, the company merely said, “ShipBob provides warehouse and shipping services to companies that sell a wide range of products. We only allow the use of our services for lawful purposes. And while we don’t discuss individual personnel matters, we do take employee violations of our client confidentiality policy seriously.”
Perry’s firing comes amid a soul-searching moment for tech companies — should they employ a consciences amid their pursuit of profit? In early August, Amazon pulled racist items from its virtual shelves, like Nazi-themed toys and baby onesies with pictures of burning crosses, according to NPR. In June, Google took heat for its Project Maven contract, where it provided artificial intelligence to the U.S. Department of Defense to analyze drone footage, according to Gizmodo.
While selling MAGA hats may not seem as dire as A.I. defense contracts, to Perry, it was personal.
@LoveShipBob houses MAGA hats. I work here. This company has justified housing these hats.They represent a threat to so many different types of people, all represented in the staff of its various divisions. I didn’t say something initially out of fear of losing my job. However… pic.twitter.com/uM2YRimr4J
— Fayola Perry (@SWEETtriniSOUL) August 14, 2018
Late last year while protesting in Oakland, Perry was attacked by a MAGA hat-wearing counter protester, she told me in an August interview.
“He grabbed the back of my ‘fro, and whispered something sexually offensive to me, along the lines of ‘I fuck black girls for excitement,’” she said. “It was a whole ordeal. It was traumatic.”
To Perry and doubtlessly to others, MAGA hats aren’t simply a political statement associated with conservatives, but with white supremacists, hate speech, and violence.
“That’s what I tried to explain to my boss. I was in tears,” she said.
She tried repeatedly to bring the hats up internally, to no avail. Various bosses said they would address the matter, then failed to respond days later. After the lack of response, she posted video of the MAGA hats without tagging or identifying her company — which got ShipBob’s attention. Eventually, one boss told Perry that the hats were the same as the left-leaning pink pussy hats, or selling sex toys, Perry told me. When the message got across that ShipBob would take no action, she lost faith in the company, and tagged them in a subsequent tweet.
“It shifted my opinion of the company and my confidence in wanting to work there,” she said.
Now Perry acknowledged to me that there was a confidentiality agreement, and a social media agreement, that employees signed when they started working for ShipBob. But she also told me she was not told directly to take the video down, and was fired in a way that caught her off guard, and allowed little chance for reprieve.
Ultimately Perry was disappointed not just because ShipBob refused to take action on the hats, but because they were not even willing to entertain a conversation about what the company’s ethics should be. As a queer woman of color and an immigrant from Trinidad, the company had always felt diverse and supportive to her. “So many queer women of color work there, so many supervisors are Latino or Afro Latino,” she said.
Now she wants others to know that they should be wary.
“I want them to be held accountable. I want them to understand there’s a line to draw,” she said. “Or at least to have the conversation.”
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.