Tech company CEOs have all responded to Tuesday’s election results in similar ways, with letters, memos, and emails to employees reminding them to stay the course and reiterating the power of an inclusive and diverse environment. Grubhub CEO and co-founder Matt Maloney happens to be an outlier. Instead of offering employees a series of vague platitudes, he came out and said the president elect is a hateful step backwards.
In a controversial company-wide email sent out yesterday and obtained by Fox News, Maloney wrote, “I absolutely reject the nationalist, anti-immigrant and hateful politics of Donald Trump and will work to shield our community from this movement as best as I can.” He goes on to say that any employee who is scared or feeling vulnerable in the current political climate should know that he and Grubhub will “fight for your dignity and your right to make a better life for yourself and your family here in the United States.”
Then there’s the part getting Maloney in hot water. He writes that, “If you do not agree with this statement then please reply to this email with your resignation because you have no place here.” At first glance, it appears Maloney is telling pro-Trump supporters among his ranks to resign — and that is how many headlines have interpreted the letter.
However, if you carefully parse the note, that sentence technically is referring to fighting for his employees dignity and right to make a better life for themselves, not supporting Trump. Whether Maloney intended for that kind of careful parsing of grammar or not is immaterial — the fact that it’s necessary to read so closely to not assume he wants Trump supports to quit is a problem.
Many chose to interpret the email not as a repudiation of Trump, but as an open call to excise any Republican voters from his company. A fierce backlash has already begun on Twitter with the hashtag #boycottgrubhub, and it does not look as if it will subside any time soon. Maloney apparently stands by the letter, telling Fox News that about 20 percent of his staff has personally thanked him for it.
In a press release posted to Grubhub’s website this evening, Maloney tried to address the criticism. “I want to clarify that I did not ask for anyone to resign if they voted for Trump. I would never make such a demand,” he wrote. “To the contrary, the message of the email is that we do not tolerate discriminatory activity or hateful commentary in the workplace, and that we will stand up for our employees.” Maloney added that he accepts employees with all political beliefs and reiterated that Grubhub “does not discriminate on the basis of someone's principles, or political or other beliefs.”
You could argue that regardless of Maloney’s follow-up statement, he waded into legally murky territory with his initial email. He isn’t promising retaliation against Trump voters, or promising to suss out Trump sympathizers and fire them. He is, however, outlining a cultural workplace attitude he would like see excised from Grubhub, and asking those employees who share that attitude to remove themselves at their own discretion. The jury appears to still be out on whether he crossed a legal line.
Mini-lawsplainer: maybe @Grubhub isn't safe with that "resign if you support Trump's politics" email after all. /1— (((Popehat))) (@Popehat) November 10, 2016
Nonetheless, it’s a remarkable step to take, even in today’s divisive political climate, for the boss of hundreds of employees to lay out such a transparent distaste for one side of the political aisle. It’s also not exactly smart to word things in such a way as to let them be purposefully, or even accidentally, misinterpreted as political discrimination.
Update 7:46PM ET, 11/11: Added quotes from Maloney’s follow-up press release issued this evening.