No, it’s not up to everyone else to adapt to you

Published on Thursday, September 6, 2012 By Brad Wardell In Business

What kind of place do you want to work at?

Stardock’s a pretty fun place to work.  We have almost no turn over and morale is pretty high.  It is, however, a nerdy place. That means there’s lots of references to Monty Python, The Simpsons, Family Guy, Robot Chicken that sometimes float around.  That is to say, it's not a place for everyone. When we interview people, we make some effort to make sure people know that Stardock is a silly place.  People bring their dogs to work. There are nerf-gun fights. We have a nutritionist come in to help show people (those who want to anyway) how to prepare healthier lunches. We have a personal trainer come in to give classes.  It is, in short, a pretty silly, fun, and unusual place.

And we like it that way.

Some people may find TV show references or jokes told around the office to be “vulgar” or “sexist” or what have you. How they personally understand these jokes is their right. And if a person has a specific problem with someone talking around them about it, then I think people should make a best case effort to not upset that individual. People have rights in the workplace and they should be respected.

Where I draw the line, however, is someone telling us (or me ) that we need to not talk about those things in general. That is, not just when they’re around but even when they’re not around. 

And my response to that is basically – this place may not be for you then – find another job.

The rights of the individual and the rights of the group

To use an example, we had someone who hated the word "fart". Don't ask me why. They just didn't like that word. So around that person, people didn't use that word.  However, they don't have the right to insist that the word "fart" not be used at work at all. 

I would like to think most reasonable people would understand that. But even if they don’t, I would think they would agree that it’s not acceptable wipe out company IP on the way out and file a frivolous “hostile work environment” lawsuit.  If a company's culture is incompatible with you, then the best thing to do is to find another job. Part ways amicably. Don't get angry or bitter. Don't let it take you to such a dark place where you feel justified suing your employer and destroying their property. 


Ever since [Redacted] publicly released selected (and one-sided) documents of her lawsuit against us, we've gotten a lot of negative and frankly, unfair publicity.  More than that, I've received numerous death threats (which included a call to the police), my personal information released online, google maps directions to my house posted, my children harassed, etc. 

None of the people calling for my head (both literally and figuratively) know anything about the situation.  Neither I, nor anyone on our staff, has behaved inappropriately to [Redacted].  Moreover, not only are people of all races, sexes and orientations treated equally here but our management team is extremely diverse -- not because we promote based on race/sex but precisely because we don't.

I would be willing to wager that Stardock has more women in leadership positions as a percent of positions than most technology companies.  We hire the best. [Redacted] was an outstanding employee. She was very talented at marketing and PR. A skill she was very well aware of as this ordeal began with a letter from her lawyer implying that if we didn't pay her off, she'd use her marketing skills to generate a lot of negative coverage of her -- a threat she has since made good on.

Two sides to the story

Unlike [Redacted], I am responsible not just for my own welfare but those of my coworkers. I don't have the luxury to lash out and do a document dump even though doing so would demonstrate just how ridiculous, spiteful and frivolous her case is. However, one day this case will be over. At which point I will be free to give more detail into her claims and the context they were made in.  I hope that the media, that as so quick to vilify me, will be just as eager to talk to me when we are exonerated.  

What I will say is that I hope when we are exonerated that those who reflexively sided with [Redacted] will, in the future, choose to withhold judgment until they have seen all the facts when they see sensationalist journalism. I will say I've been surprised and disappointed in seeing many people I thought had better judgment quickly assume the worst about me despite having run a successful company for almost two decades. We are a technology company in which fewer than 2 people, on average, voluntarily leave per year (this in a company of >50 people) is rare. [Redacted] was the first female employee, in almost 20 years, to voluntarily leave our company.  This in a company whose COO is female, its financial controller is female, its lead developer is female, its marketing manager is female, its lead artist is female, and on and on. Stardock is many things but it is not a boy's club.

Sometimes one party is totally wrong

People tend to want to see "both sides". Sometimes, however, one party is completely wrong and in this case, that party is [Redacted]  Like millions of people every day, she got angry with her boss for things that had nothing to do with whether she was a man or a woman. But unlike most people, she chose to make use of the legal system and a sympathetic media to try to get a pound of flesh. Her first act was to write us a letter demanding, in essence, that we pay her off lest she try to make us look bad in public. We have this letter.

When we didn't give into her demands, she ultimately sued us. First she stated it was because of "constructive discharge". Then she added hostile work environment. Then she added sexual harassment. And then she added, I kid you not, "battery" (because I touched her hair once at a social gathering months before she departed).

The problem for her and those who think what she did is ethical or acceptable behavior, is that our legal system doesn't exist for people to "teach someone a lesson" for making her mad. Instead of simply finding a place to work that she might find more enjoyable, she decided to abuse the legal system. And, for reasons I still find baffling, wiped out our marketing assets (on a side note, I remain amazed at how many supposedly computer literate people out there have suggested that our lawsuit against her was done as "retaliation" given the ease of proving what/when/how she did what she did - we have the logs, we have the forensics. It's trivial to prove).

In my opinion, [redacted] and people like her do great harm to our business climate. Her message seems to be: Conform to my narrow view on how the workplace should be or I will take advantage of being a "protected class" and make you pay for it - either through legal costs or through public release of hand-picked, one-sided court documents to damage you in the public.

What is your honor worth?

Most companies would have paid her off to make it go away. We have insurance, I had to explicitly waive that insurance in order to ensure that the case wasn't settled (because insurance companies just do a cost/benefit ratio). What is ironic, is if she had asked for some severance package before she left, I would have given it to her.  But because she chose to fabricate allegations against me I will fight tooth and nail against that. 

Some specifics

At this stage I am still somewhat limited in what I can say publicly.  What I can say is that not only was there zero behavior directed towards her that a reasonable person could consider "sexual harassment" but there was no behavior that a reasonable person would even consider inappropriate.  I never sent her a "purity test", I never asked her any "personal" questions (she makes numerous false allegations of this nature). Every witness, including her friends, have collaborated our version of events and rejected hers.  Her case is frivolous and this will end only one way: It will be be dismissed.

The only thing they have is my insulting email to her in response to her insubordinate email to me which was written without any consideration of her sex. And I make no apologies for my email. I am sure it causes some people fainting spells but where I come from, you do not email your boss's boss a patronizing "with these behavior modifications we can get along" email and not either get fired on the spot or reamed

Update: Redacted her name, edits.