Companies like Disney and Nike have become more woke and frequently make the news for their radical political positions. Employees of these companies frequently push the larger business to move even further left, and take even more woke positions.

But what happens if someone is an employee of a woke company and isn’t woke themselves?

Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, says the consequences can be dire.

“HR departments have become increasingly woke, and corporate leaders are afraid of Twitter mobs attacking and destroying the reputation of the company,” explains Pell.

“The employers now are highly sensitive to outside criticism and outside activists know this,” he adds. “So they prey on these companies and they basically threaten to expose them for being racist if they don’t go along with whatever the activists want.”

Pell joins the show to discuss how the woke took over business, and how we can counter them.

We also cover these stories:

  • The Department of Homeland Security “pauses” its controversial Disinformation Governance Board.
  • The homeland security agency also prepares for violence following a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
  • The S&P 500 ESG Index removes Elon Musk’s Tesla from the list.
  • All 50 states have an average price per gallon of gas that is higher than $4.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:

Doug Blair: My guest today is Terry Pell, president at the Center for Individual Rights. Terry, welcome to the show.

Terry Pell: Thanks for having me.

Blair: Absolutely. We hear a lot about wokeness at the top of a lot of these corporations like Disney or BlackRock, but we don’t necessarily hear as much about the day-to-day operations and how wokeness impacts that. So, is there a lot of wokeness present in the normal goings-on of a lot of these corporations?

Pell: Well, yes. And the American people are starting to notice this. There’s a recent poll that 84% of adults think that Americans no longer speak freely in everyday situations, and 58% of their respondents to this poll said that they personally held their tongue sometime in the past year due to social silencing.

A big part of the reason for this fear that you can be punished now is what’s going on in the workplace. It’s happening in public workplaces, government workplaces, also private sector workplaces.

What’s going on is that outside activists have made it clear that employees can be fired for expressing anything that a political activist decides is controversial. And unfortunately, employers are unwilling to stand up to this pressure tactic by outside activists. So what’s resulted is that a very one-sided, highly-politicized speech agenda is taking over the private workplace.

Blair: Are people who maybe don’t necessarily subscribe to this wokeness specifically targeted or is this a matter of, if you don’t say the progressive woke talking points, then you’re targeted? Which one is it, or is it both?

Pell: Well, it’s both, but there’s an important random quality here. The way this works is you could have said something five years ago and somebody will find it and they’ll jump on it.

And five years ago, it might have been a completely noncontroversial view held by a lot of people, may still be held by a lot of people. But in today’s hyper-charged political environment, what was an innocent comment five years ago is all of a sudden tarred and feathered as something incredibly controversial.

And instead of standing up to this, the employers back down. So that means it’s just a form of political terrorism that’s taken over the workplace. You don’t know what comment you might have made would trigger something. So as a result, you live in fear that anything you say might trigger something. And what it does effectively is just silence speech.

Blair: Do we see that the consequences are social shunning or does it get to as extreme as maybe a firing over something that is not politically correct?

Pell: Oh, no, people are getting fired for this all the time. In the last year, we brought four cases defending people who were punished solely because of a political point of view that they expressed off work and somebody made an issue out of it and they were fired.

I mean, this is very unusual. Normally, we get one case like this every four years, and we had four cases in one year. And it’s not stopping. We get phone calls every couple of weeks about somebody who’s been punished.

I mean, a lot of this is operating under the radar because these are ordinary employees in small workplaces, but it’s going on across the country. It’s happening in public workplaces, government workplaces, private sector workplaces. And each person who’s isolated and punished for their speech really feels like they have no recourse. So they just try to crawl under a rock somewhere.

And that’s where we come in. We take these cases. We defend them. There are laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of political viewpoint that cover about 50% of the American workplaces. So we enforce those laws. We represent these clients and we try to get things reversed, get them their job back, or their salary, or whatever it is. But what’s really needed is we need new laws to address the 50% of the workplaces that aren’t covered.

A good example is nearby in Howard County, Maryland. They passed a law that makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees based on their political viewpoint.

That’s a good law and we need more laws like that to just make it clear that, look, employers and employees have the right to negotiate between themselves about what’s appropriate speech on work and off work. And we don’t have any problem with that. But when an outside agitator comes in and tries to disrupt commonsense understandings about what’s appropriate speech in the workplace and replace those commonsense rules with very politicized, one-sided rules, we’ll step in and we’ll litigate that because that’s really just not the way the American workplace is supposed to work.

Blair: Sure. You mentioned that you are in the process of a couple of different cases at the moment. Would you be able to go into one of them to give an example of what this looks like in the real world?

Pell: Sure. We’re representing a vice president of a private corporation in Maryland who had permission from his employer to have an off-work podcast, which he ran with a friend of his. Basically, they talked about craft beers and interspersed it with political commentary, what was going on during the day.

Well, another employee searched through the some 200 podcasts and found a couple of them where the two hosts talked about diversity efforts, corporate diversity efforts, which they were critical of, and also talked about hate crimes, hate crime laws, which they’re also critical of.

Well, the disgruntled employee sent a company-wide email demanding that this individual be fired. And when that didn’t quite work, the employee arranged a walkout with about 15 other employees, and the employer immediately caved despite the fact that company policy was that employees could have off-work podcasts. And despite the fact that he’d been given explicit permission for his podcast, they fired him in four hours’ time.

As I said, Howard County, where this business is located, has a law that prevents discrimination on the basis of political viewpoint. So we went to bat for this guy and right now it’s before the courts and we’re trying to get this guy restored. I mean, it’s somewhat ridiculous that you have to go to court to defend the workplace commonsense speech policies that they had in place there, but that’s how politicized this has become.

Blair: What strikes me as so odd is that the company caved so fast. I guess, is that common, for a company to just give up? I can’t imagine that’s good for morale when a company will just say you can be out the door in literally 30 seconds because a disgruntled employee said something they didn’t like.

Pell: Well, what’s going on here is that HR departments have become increasingly woke, and corporate leaders are afraid of basically Twitter mobs attacking and destroying the reputation of the company. So there’s a zero-tolerance policy here that’s all of a sudden come into play without any announcement or preparation.

I mean, basically what it is, is the employers now are highly sensitive to outside criticism and outside activists know this. So they prey on these companies and they basically threaten to expose them for being racist if they don’t to go along with whatever the activists want. So that’s what we’re dealing with. It’s a political pressure tactic.

Blair: So it’s a political pressure tactic from the employees who have a political agenda or is it more from outside activists who want to make sure that corporations are towing leftist woke ideology?

Pell: Well, it’s a combination. This is driven by outside activists. And in the case that we’re representing, an individual was an employee who picked up the woke activism of the outside activists and pushed forward inside the company.

And as I said, HR departments these days are injecting identity politics and all sorts of workplace policies, including speech policies, so that what was acceptable six months ago is not acceptable now. And it’s a moving target.

Employees who are used to a collegial workplace that tolerates people with different off-work views and off-work religious practices, all of a sudden they’re finding themselves blindsided by a new political reality with no way to really know what they’re going to get hit for next. That’s really the terrible thing here.

Blair: So, we are looking at this relatively new phenomenon that seems to be unpopular with the American public. I think you mentioned that a little bit earlier that Americans are responding negative to this. Could you go a little bit more in-depth about what Americans are thinking about?

Pell: I think the focus of their concern is the loss of civil liberties. Everybody understands the First Amendment. Everybody understands the ordinary understanding they use to govern workplaces, which is that we all work together regardless of our off-work political views or religious views. Now all of a sudden, that’s turned 180 degrees. It’s upside down now. So you can be punished. It’s no longer the case that you tolerate people with different views. Now you go after them, and you try to expose them, and you try to get them fired.

And unfortunately, the employers are not standing up to this. What employers should do is really insist that their employees focus on getting the job done. Look, we come to work, we work with people who have different religious views, different political views, but that’s OK. I mean, we’re at work to get a job done. We’re not at work to be members of the same church.

If employers would enforce that commonsense view of the workplace, we’d be in good shape. But unfortunately, due to woke pressure from the outside, they’ve panicked and they’ve thrown what was longstanding, sensible speech policies out the window in favor of highly politicized speech policies that really enforce political conformity. And it’s bad for these companies and it’s bad for the country.

Blair: How essential do you think Americans view getting this type of behavior out of corporations and out of the workplace?

Pell: I mean, in a recent poll of voter sentiment, it turns out that fear over the laws or concern over the loss of civil liberties outranks crime and education as issues of voter concern. That’s unheard of. I mean, concern for civil liberties never shows up in voter concern polls, and now it’s ahead of crime and education.

So I think that gives an indication that people are worried about this. They understand that understandings they used to have, workplace policies that people used to accept and understand, are out the window and nobody knows what’s replacing those.

So it’s a very random political environment now where you can be attacked for anything you say. There’s no safe harbor here. Something you said five years ago could be made into something very controversial now, and you could lose your job in 24 hours’ notice. And people understand that’s not good for them. It’s not good for the workplace and it’s not good for the country.

Blair: Does this ever happen the other way around where somebody who maybe works and says something pretty liberal or pretty woke will get fired from their job? Does that ever happen or is this pretty much exclusively the other way?

Pell: Well, in our experience right now, it’s very one-sided. This is being managed and brought by the left as an attack on the right. And the large political goal here is to just marginalize political conservatives so they can’t express their views at work or off work. I mean, that’s what the larger strategy is.

I think what’s new and surprising about this is the rapidity with which it’s invaded the American workplace. It used to be that the key to a successful workplace was toleration of people’s off-work views. Now it’s 180 degrees the opposite. You have to worry about everything you say on work or off work, and people don’t like that. And yes, they are concerned about it.

Blair: You mentioned a couple of laws specifically in Maryland that are positive steps, right? Are we seeing that there is either any federal or state efforts to combat wokeness in the workplace?

Pell: I would say that at this point, there hasn’t been a big move to adopting these laws. It’s happened in different places, but I think legislators are just now waking up to this problem, and there are laws that they could pass that have been successfully used in certain jurisdictions. What we think ought to happen here is that they be adopted in a greater number of jurisdictions, but I wouldn’t characterize it as a full-scale movement at this point.

Blair: As we begin to wrap-up here, I always like to give the listeners a sense of, “Hey, what can I do?” as a call to action. What can people who aren’t in positions of legislative power, or maybe who aren’t even corporate heads, who don’t have that institutional power at their corporations to fix things, what can the everyday American do to counter wokeness in their workplaces?

Pell: I think the most important thing now is for people to stand up to this, and there are plenty of ways people can stand up. If they see it happening in their workplace, they can raise the issue and say, “This is wrong. This shouldn’t be happening.” If they know of instances where people have lost their job or been fired, they can put them in touch with organizations like the Center for Individual Rights. We’ll go to bat and we will enforce the law on these individuals’ behalf.

So I think it’s important that collectively Americans stand up to this and say “no.” And what form that takes matters less than we attack this on all fronts. That’s the only way. I mean, this is bullying. It’s classic bullying coming from the left. And the only way to deal with a bully is to stand up to them, and there are plenty of ways to do that.

Blair: Are there other ways that maybe in the workplace, while they’re dealing with it at the moment, that they can say, “Stop, this isn’t going to be a thing anymore”? Or is it a matter of saying “stop” enough times?

Pell: Well, it’s partly “stop” enough times. It’s also partly getting employers to stand up to this. Employers need to understand that if you let this go once, you’re asking for more and more trouble down the road. You’re basically allowing outside activists to take over your workplace and replace whatever sensible speech policies you might have had in place with very politicized workplace speech policies.

An employer who allows this to happen is vulnerable to any disgruntled employee who decides they want to get rid of a coworker. And once you allow this to happen once, you’re going to face other instances of this.

So I think the key actor here who’s got to step up to the plate are the employers, who’ve got to return to a commonsense view of the workplace as a place where Americans learn to tolerate people with different off-work political views, different off-work religious practices.

That’s how you build a strong workforce. And if you aren’t willing to invest in that kind of a workforce, you’re just asking for big expenses, lawsuits, and employee dissension down the road. It’s just not going to be a very pleasant place for your employees to work.

Blair: Excellent. That was Terry Pell, President at the Center for Individual Rights. Terry, very much appreciate your time.

Pell: Thanks for having me.

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