Everyday Ethics

We’ve all probably sent an email from our work account to the wrong person – I once worked at a large law firm where a first year associate sent out a raucous party invite to the entire firm, including all the partners.
Well, he most likely survived the embarrassment, just as Sherri Goforth, an administrative assistant to state Senator Diane Black of Tennessee, will no doubt survive. Goforth “mistakenly” sent a cartoonish depiction of President Obama to the wrong email list.
Not so bad? Oh, it is. The email image portrays Obama in a collage of his peers, former presidents of the United States — except Obama’s portrait is a cartoon of two white eyes peering from an all black background.
Honestly, I’m not one to see racism every which way I turn. But when I saw this image (before completing the accompanying article) I was sincerely shocked at the overt nature of the insult. Thinking I couldn’t be more shocked, I continued to read the story.

Far from showing remorse, Goforth comes across as completely unrepentant about the racist nature of the email. She says she sent the email “to the wrong list of people.” Christian Grantham, of the website Nashville Is Talking, quotes Goforth as saying “I inadvertently hit the wrong button. I’m very sick about it, and it’s one of those things I can’t change or take back.” To be fair, she later apologized, explaining that it was a forward that she simply forwarded on.
Well, whoopsie…if that’s the case, all is forgiven! I mean, as I said earlier, we’ve all made similar mistakes, right? Right?
Wrong. I don’t think I need to get on a soapbox here on the ethics of racism. Assuming we all agree that the email was racist (a huge assumption, I know, but bear with me please), should Goforth be fired? Or does this come under freedom of speech?
Chip Forrester, the chairman of Tennessee’s Democratic Party, seems to think she should be fired. I think I do too. Forrester says,
“I am calling on Sen. Black to reject this racist smear and fire this staffer who, on state government time, on state government computers, using a state government e-mail account, launched this bigoted attack on our president. Keeping her on the staff would send the message that this type of behavior is condoned by the Senate Republican Caucus.”
While I don’t believe it’s ethical to fire someone for racist thoughts, I do feel that Goforth misused government time and property, and abused the highest representation of the government for which she works. Heck, on a “company standards” level I’m pretty sure I would be fired for sending that email, and I certainly don’t work for the government.
Nor do I believe this is a Republican/Democrat issue. I’m sincerely surprised that Senator Black has allowed her staffer to get away with a reprimand. I would assume that at the very least, her show of poor judgment is a good case for dismissal.
What do you think? Fire her? Keep her on with a reprimand? Free speech or blatant abuse of her position?
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