NPR Reporter Who Was Fired for His Stand-up Act Wins Job Back After Arbitrator Rules His Routine Funny
When it comes to the muted tones and dour broadcasts of National Public Radio, creating laughter is no longer a fireable offense.
Philadelphia’s Jad Sleiman has worn many hats. An Arab-American raised in a Muslim family, Sleiman served in the Marines and worked as a war reporter in the Middle East before returning to America to continue his journalism career. Sleiman spent five years working for The Pulse, a health and science broadcast produced by Philadelphia’s local NPR affiliate WHYY, during which he moonlighted as a standup comedian, sharing his unique perspective on international politics and domestic issues through humor. Then, when WHYY caught wind of Sleiman’s creative side hustle last year, they took personal offense to his act and swiftly terminated him — apparently, that’s what you get for actually entertaining people when you work for NPR.
Represented by SAG-AFTRA grievance lawyers and backed by the union, Sleiman contested his termination and entered into arbitration with WHYY that culminated with the ruling that Sleiman must swiftly return to his post. Last week, the arbitrator in the case decided that Sleiman had not violated WHYY’s social media conduct policy because the clips from his standup sets that he posted online were funnier than they were inflammatory. Next we need a judge to force NPR to admit that the desk isn’t even tiny.
“They cut off my health insurance same day, despite the fact that they know I have multiple sclerosis and rely on very expensive drugs to walk,” Sleiman told Vice last week of his termination. “They also went and deleted all my work from the site, every single possible clip I could try to use to get a job.”
WHYY and their representatives at Duane Morris LLP entered numerous jokes told in clips that Sleiman posted on social media into the record, including one that addressed working conditions at WHYY itself, titled, “Kind of Racist.” In the bit, Sleiman says, “I work at one of these places that’s so woke it’s kinda racist. Like this lady asked my boss, she’s like ‘Yo, does Jad consider himself a person of color?’ because she was making a list of us. Fucking hell? Sick, alright. I get to be in this lady’s brown dude Pokédex.”
When determining whether “Kind of Racist” violated WHYY’s social media conduct policy, which reads, “Employees must take care that their postings cannot be interpreted as inflammatory, unethical or illegal, since such posts may have an adverse effect on WHYY,” the arbitrator called the bit “a powerful condemnation, in a funny way, of what (Sleiman) calls corporatized racial consciousness.”
Other jokes addressing similarly sensitive subjects through Sleiman’s unique perspective earned labels like “simply funny,” “insightful, principled and serious,” and other complimentary reviews that will inevitably appear in promotional material should Sleiman’s standup ever earn him a Netflix deal. Not only did Sleiman come out of the arbitration as an absolute victor, he also inadvertently bolstered his standing on Metacritic using the machinations of the legal system.
As for his inevitably awkward return to work, Sleiman is unphased. “I’m going to walk in there like fucking Vince McMahon,” he told Vice of his first day back at WHYY. “They tried their best. They called me every name in the book. They cut off my health insurance. They deleted all of my fucking stories, which like, what the fuck? And then they still lost. People keep asking, ‘Is it going to be weird going back?’ I’m like, yeah, for them.”