Thursday, April 12, 2007

I have no problem with Don Imus getting fired for his comments regarding the appearance of the girls on the Rutgers basketball team... but that doesn't mean I approve of the way in which he was fired.

When an employee does or says something wrong, management has three ways to react: they can fire the individual, they can discipline the individual in a way that falls short of termination (for instance, with a suspension or pay cut), or they can treat the action as, while wrong, not rising to a level where disciplinary action of any type beyond a 'Tsk Tsk' is warranted.

The standards might vary from employer to employer, with, for example, some companies treating a given action as meriting outright dismissal while other companies might deem a suspension as an appropriate punishment.

That's fine... provided that a company doesn't apply 'justice' in a discriminatory way, I'm okay with companies deciding for themselves what level of punishment is appropriate for a particular sin. In other words, a company ought to be free to decide how they want to treat a given situation so long as they did the same in previous similar situations and as long as they do the same were such similar offenses to take place.

And... as long as they do so without taking into account who might be complaining about the actions of the employee. If an act is wrong and merits dismissal of the offending employee, it ought not matter if there are 20,000 people marching and demanding the employee be fired or if there is only a little old grandmother who is upset.

It is the act (and the attitude and history of the offender) that ought to determine the penalty, not whether the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are among those screaming for somebody's head.

And this is where CBS fell down. I was fine with them deciding that a two week suspension was an appropriate reaction to Imus's comments. And I would have had no problem with them deciding that what Imus said, with or without taking into account the other despicable things he has said over the years, warranted an outright termination. But it was wrong for CBS to first treat it as an act for which a two week suspension was appropriate, only to upgrade the penalty because the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton showed up to protest (while I have a particular 'fondness' for Jackson and Sharpton, I would be as upset if CBS had caved into pressure from any particular grievance water carrier).

As I've said, I have no problem with Imus being fired. But if calling the Rutgers' girls basketball players a bunch of 'nappy haired hos' is something that gets one fired, then he should have been fired as soon as Les Moonves heard of Imus's comments.... and not after Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton showed up at Moonves' office to complain.

By doing what he did, Moonves showed that what determines discipline at CBS is not the underlying action, but rather the clout of those who show up to complain. What a terrible signal to send to his employees.