GitHub puts co-founder on leave after harassment claims

After engineer Julie Ann Horvath alleges gender discrimination and intimidation while working at the software development company, the management launches an investigation.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read
The GitHub team. GitHub

GitHub is the latest tech company to be accused of turning a blind eye to ongoing gender discrimination in the workplace.

After last week's departure of engineer Julie Ann Horvath, who detailed the sexism she said she experienced at GitHub in an interview with TechCrunch, the company has put the alleged offenders on leave.

"This weekend, GitHub employee Julie Horvath spoke publicly about negative experiences she had at GitHub that contributed to her resignation," GitHub CEO and co-founder Chris Wanstrath wrote in a blog post on Sunday. "I would like to personally apologize to Julie. It's certain that there were things we could have done differently."

During the two years that Horvath worked at GitHub, she told TechCrunch, she tried to fit in with the "boys' club" but she had a hard time feeling welcome because of her gender. While GitHub was supportive of women on its staff, Horvath said, she still experienced sexism.

"I had a really hard time getting used to the culture, the aggressive communication on pull requests and how little the men I worked with respected and valued my opinion," Horvath told TechCrunch.

Horvath was considered a talented engineer and was in charge of creating GitHub's "Passion Projects," which "seeks to surface and celebrate the work of incredible women in our industry, as well as produce more female role models within the tech community."

Not only was it difficult for Horvath to fit in with her colleagues' bro-culture mentality, but she was also allegedly subjected to harassment by one of the co-founders' wives and another GitHub engineer who she said she rejected after romantic overtures. Despite Horvath working with human resources to right the situation, she said it was clear that the company's culture would not change -- which led to her resignation.

To address the situation, Wanstrath announced that the co-founder allegedly involved with the controversy has been placed on leave, along with the engineer. The co-founder's wife also has been barred from the office. Additionally, the company hired an "experienced HR Lead" in January.

"We know we have to take action and have begun a full investigation. While that's ongoing, and effective immediately, the relevant founder has been put on leave, as has the referenced GitHub engineer," Wanstrath wrote. "The founder's wife discussed in the media reports has never had hiring or firing power at GitHub and will no longer be permitted in the office."

"We still have work to do. We know that," he continued. "However, making sure GitHub employees are getting the right feedback and have a safe way to voice their concerns is a primary focus of the company."

Gender discrimination in the tech industry isn't isolated to just GitHub. Over the years, the male-dominated tech world has experienced its fair share of sexism claims. In 2010, Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd resigned after an investigation into sexual harassment claims found he violated standards of business conduct. And, in 2012, junior partner at Kleiner Perkins Ellen Pao filed a gender discrimination complaint against the venture capital firm claiming unequal promotions and pay for female employees.

Corrected at 6:50 p.m. PT to amend Julie Ann Horvath's harassment allegations. Sexual harassment is not being alleged.