In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

Yahoo Director Fired After N Word, Expletive Filled, NWA Email

Here's a simple tip for corporate communications: don't start emails to your team with "Wuddup my n*****." In fact, don't use the "N word" at all. Ever. Especially not when you're working high up in a diversity-starved, struggling tech company.

It's not a hard lesson, but it's one that Yahoo's Jerry Shen failed to learn. Shen worked as a director of engineering and joined Yahoo after his fantasy football app was bought up by the purple, exclamatory tech company. He recently sent an N.W.A.-themed email throughout the company. It started with "Wuddup" and didn't get much better from there. Shen was fired the same day.

Straight Outta a Job

There's some room for linguistic creativity when writing for a corporate office, but the true-to-the-streets language of gansta rap is a style that's best avoided. Case in-point: Jerry Shen's email, which was recently published by Canada's Globe and Mail. It was a simple request for employees to help try out Yahoo's fantasy football apps, though things were greatly complicated when Shen "attempted to channel the gritty language of the recently released movie Straight Outta Compton," according to the Globe.

Straight Outta Compton details the rise of gansta-rap group N.W.A. Shen's email was entitled "Straight out of Sunnyvale," for the Silicon Valley hub where Yahoo is based. Shen takes on the persona of N.W.A.'s Ice Cube (quite literally, writing "Ice Cube here.") In addition to the "Wuddup my n*****" greeting, Shen writes that "ya'll mother****** MUST be crazy!!" for thinking the app would be ready on Android devices. All those asterisks are in the original.

Another Bad Mark for a Struggling Company

By the end of the day, a Yahoo executive sent out an email notifying employees that Shen was fired, the Globe reports. But not before several employees had responded, noting their offense. Yahoo Sports writer Marc Spears responded to the email saying:

It's sadly inevitable as a black person that you hear the 'N' word as you mentioned from time to time... I just never thought I would hear it in a work e-mail with Yahoo. Well, at least we know what you think about us.

Shen's firing was a quick response from a company that is already taking strong public criticism. Like most of the tech industry, Yahoo is a disaster when it comes to diversity. The company is 62 percent male overall, with men holding 84 percent of all tech-specific jobs. Black employees make up just two percent of the company. Further, unlike diversity-starved tech company's like Google or Apple, Yahoo is also facing intense criticism for its shrinking profitability and poor financial performance.

Shen, who has detailed his struggles adapting to Yahoo's culture before, may be out of a job, but he's unlikely to be starving. His one-man app company developed the country's most popular fantasy football app before Yahoo bought him out for what the San Francisco Chronicle estimates was "tens of millions of dollars."

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