The question is focused on the company's responsibility for taking action without just cause against an appointed moderator on Meta Stack Exchange (herein called SE).
There is a moderator
contract agreement 1. which states
[emphasis in bold mine]
I acknowledge and agree that as a moderator for Stack Exchange Inc.
i. I will abide by the then-current Terms of Service of Meta Stack Exchange, and other moderator policies made available to me,
ii. I acknowledge that I may have access to potentially personally-identifying information about Meta Stack Exchange users and that in connection with such access
b. I will not disclose this information to anyone,
c. I will not store or copy this information and
d. I will only use such information in connection with performance as a Meta Stack Exchange moderator for the benefit of Meta Stack Exchange.
I acknowledge and agree that I am an independent volunteer moderator to Meta Stack Exchange and I am not an employee, agent or representative of Stack Exchange Inc., and I have no authority to bind Stack Exchange Inc. in any manner. Stack Exchange Inc. reserves the right to terminate my privileges as a moderator at any time without warning.
contract agreement 1. fails to mention anything about SE's responsibilities not to malign the good name and reputation of its volunteers.
At 2:56, September 29th, 2019 a moderator posted a farewell letter to her peers, friends, and users on Mi Yodeya, informing them that the company hosting the sites where she had contributed and volunteered for several years, had unceremoniously stripped her moderating privileges.
… I saw my diamond disappear before my eyes and briefly saw an announcement from a CM [Community Manager] in TL [Teachers' lounge] that contained false allegations against me. When I tried to respond I was booted from the room. Around this time I received email firing me. This email did not cite anything I have done wrong; […]
In TL and now in answers here and elsewhere, Stack Exchange employees made vague statements implying that I oppose inclusion and respectful behavior, which is false and adds insult on top of the injury already done. I suspect a profound misunderstanding is at the root of their behavior, but all of my attempts to resolve it have gone unanswered.
At 20:19, September 29th 2019, the Director of Q&A, Ms. Sara Chipps, posted a reply beneath Monica Cellio's letter. Note that Cellio's letter of statement never named Ms Chipps in person.
In its entirety [emphasis mine]
We understand there are some folks upset about this decision. We aren’t going to share specifics out of respect for all individuals involved but this is a site reaching millions of people and we have to do what we believe fosters a spirit of inclusion and respect. When a moderator violates that, we will always do our best to resolve it with them privately. When we can’t we must take action. This is always done based on what we believe is best for all SE users.
On October 1st, 2019, an article was published on the The Register, an online publication that claims to reach: “more than nine million monthly unique browsers worldwide. The core audiences are the UK and US, accounting for more than six million.”
Asked to confirm that Cellio was the moderator in question, a company spokesperson said, "Cellio (she/her) would not use stated pronouns, which violates our current CoC. We are soon publishing an update to the CoC to even more explicitly cite misgendering users or moderators as a violation."
On October 3rd, 2019, the Director of Public Q&A posted this public announcement. Below is the first sentence from An Update to our Community and an Apology
Last week we made an important decision for our community. We removed a moderator for repeatedly violating our existing Code of Conduct and being unwilling to accept our CM’s repeated requests to change that behavior.
On October 6th, 2019, the company CTO, David Fullerton, along with Sara Chipps, Tim Post and the community management team, posted a letter of apology on Meta SE acknowledging the several mistakes the company committed which led to the ensuing fracas. However, despite being “deeply sorry”, the CTO made no attempt to repair the harm made against Monica Cellio or refute Ms Chipps' report that the company-appointed mod had repeatedly violated the Code of Conduct.
Second, we hurt a longstanding member of the community and an important volunteer moderator. She deserved the benefit of a private, comprehensive process. In the absence of a clear process for handling this kind of situation, we should have taken inspiration from our existing Moderator Action Review Process. We made a decision to act quickly, which I personally approved, but in doing so skipped several critical parts of the process.
Openly accusing a moderator of violating, repeatedly, the CoC is a serious accusation, and one which has yet to be proven, despite Cellio's repeated pleas in private emails and on meta to see the evidence.
29th October, 2019, Monica commented
A moderator, even an appointed one who uses their real name, continues to possess statutory rights. Stack Exchange, for whom 568 moderators offer their services free of charge, should have a duty of care to protect the health and safety of these dedicated volunteers, it seems reasonable to surmise that SE is also legally obliged to respect the rights of their moderators, which would include not smearing their reputation on a website or reporting their real name to the press.
Because there is an
contract agreement between the two parties–SE and moderators– this makes me wonder whether a US company has the duty to protect the privacy and identity of their volunteers who wish to remain anonymous online. What would happen if sensitive information were to be leaked or carelessly revealed by one or more of its employees to the press or on a public website? Could a moderator therefore seek legal counsel?
- Does Stack Exchange have a legal responsibility to protect the rights of its moderators?
- Does Stack Exchange have the responsibility to not violate the rights of its moderators?
November 4th, 2019
Unbeknownst to me, there appears to be a significant difference between an agreement and a contract. Although the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, a written or verbal agreement is always informal, it does not require the services of a lawyer, and it cannot be enforced by the law whereas a contract (verbal or written) can only be prepared through law and legal means and is legally binding. However, an agreement (despite its name) can be considered a contract if the following criteria are met.
- Offer and Acceptance (the offer and the necessary condition before accepting)
- Mutual Consent (the parties are in agreement)
- Consideration (what is the value exchanged)
- Competence (the signees are adult and of sound mind)
- Legal Purpose (the offer and its acceptance must be legal)
For more details, see https://www.diffen.com/difference/Agreement_vs_Contract and https://www.marketing91.com/agreement-versus-contract/
Many thanks to @Anne Daunted who prompted me to add the second question.
1. Is Stack Exchange in violation of New York labor law, in using volunteer moderators?
2. Why haven't the statements to the Register been retracted?
3. KorvinStarmast's answer on Allow Monica to have a structured conversation (à la mediation) with SE leadership