The Results of GitHub's Harassment Investigation Are ... Vague

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
April 21 2014 7:31 PM

The Results of GitHub's Harassment Investigation Are ... Vague

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Graphic from GitHub.

In March,  Julie Ann Horvath took to Twitter to allege that she resigned from her engineer position at GitHub because of harassment. Horvath claimed that one of the founders of the company, who turned out to be CEO Tom Preston-Werner, and his wife had led much of the problematic behavior that drove her to leave.  In response to the accusations, GitHub began an investigation. Today, now-CEO and co-founder Chris Wanstrath announced in a blog post on GitHub that Tom Preston-Werner is resigning in spite of the fact that GitHub's investigation found "no legal wrongdoing."

The blog post says that the company had an unnamed third-party investigator look into the matter:

The investigation found no evidence to support the claims against Tom and his wife of sexual or gender-based harassment or retaliation, or of a sexist or hostile work environment. However, while there may have been no legal wrongdoing, the investigator did find evidence of mistakes and errors of judgment.
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So there was no legal wrongdoing, but there were mistakes. While speaking with TechCrunch last month, Hovarth described a difficult work environment in which male employees treated female employees inappropriately, and people didn't respect boundaries between public and private information.

The blog post continues:

As to the remaining allegations, the investigation found no evidence of gender-based discrimination, harassment, retaliation, or abuse. We want to create a great place to work for all our employees and we can’t do that without acknowledging the challenges that exist in providing an inclusive work environment. ... We know we still have work to do.

Preston-Werner's wife, Theresa, published an account of the past few weeks on Medium, which includes some information about her experience with one of the independent investigators.

During GitHub’s investigation over the past month, my family and I ... did not answer press queries or post on social media, because we didn’t want to bias the investigation in any way. ... When I was interviewed by the 3rd party investigator, she abruptly asked if I thought Tom was naive. I was dumbfounded, unable to answer until she offered a different word; “Perhaps, you would call him optimistic?” Naive, no. Optimistic, absolutely.

Preston-Werner himself wrote in a farewell post, "Neither my wife, Theresa, nor I have ever engaged in gender-based harassment or discrimination. The results of GitHub's independent investigation unequivocally confirm this and we are prepared to fight any further false claims on this matter to the full extent of the law."

But the wording of GitHub's statement and the lack of information about the investigator makes it hard to assess the quality of the investigation. The language in the statement makes it clear that GitHub is trying to acknowledge that it erred without admitting legal wrongdoing. It's standard image control, but the lack of transparency leaves some doubts that the situation is actually being examined objectively and improved.

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Lily Hay Newman is a staff writer and the lead blogger for Future Tense.