Fired Comedian Ordered to Get Day Job Back After Jokes Ruled 'Simply Funny'

Jad Sleiman was a reporter in Philadelphia before he was fired over his budding comedy career. Now, his employer has been ordered to reinstate him.
jad sleiman
Jad Sleiman doing stand-up. Image Credit: Jad Sleiman

A reporter who was fired last year when his employer found clips of his standup comedy online must be reinstated because his jokes are funny, a third-party arbitrator has ruled. 

The arbitrator also found that his comedy clips, which covered topics including 9/11, Israel, and oral sex, could violate Philadelphia-based NPR member station WHYY’s social media policy and must be removed. The reporter, Jad Sleiman, said this raises concerns about the boundaries of remote work.


“I kind of couldn’t believe it,” said Sleiman, who wrote on Instagram that he’s been pursuing comedy full-time since his firing. “The one thing I’ve been told about arbitration is they usually split the baby, so nobody gets everything they want. But what’s been on my side this whole time is the case against me has just been such bullshit.” 

Sleiman had spent five years as a reporter at The Pulse, a health and science radio broadcast produced by WHYY. However, after senior management found clips of his standup comedy routines that he had posted on Instagram—clips the company alleged were “egregious” with “sexual connotations, racial connotations, and misogynistic information,” according to the arbitration case document Sleiman posted online—he was fired last January

“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 Motherboard on Wednesday. “They also went and deleted all my work from the site, every single possible clip I could try to use to get a job.”

Sleiman’s comedy focused on his “experiences as an Arab American, raised in a Muslim family, his experience in the U.S. Marine Corps, and his reporting while he was in the Middle East,” including embedding with Syrian opposition fighters and covering ISIS in Iraq, the arbitration document states. It includes written samples of nine jokes that Sleiman had posted as clips on Instagram (which, as part of the arbitration agreement, he has since removed from his page). One joke is listed with the title, “Kind of Racist.”


“I work at one of these places that’s so woke it’s kinda racist,” the joke reads in part. “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.” 

Another joke is titled “Trump vs Muslims vs Jews.” 

“People say Muslims hate Jews. It’s more accurate to say, we’re very afraid of them,” the joke reads in part. “They’ve been kicking our ass for, like, 70 years. We’ve got to rethink that term homophobia, dude. Homophobia means you hate gay people. It doesn’t mean homosexuals have defeated you in a dozen wars.”

Sleiman, who was represented by SAG-AFTRA grievance lawyers, argued that he had been terminated without due process. Lawyers from Duane Morris LLP, including the firm’s vice chairman Thomas Servodidio, argued that Sleiman’s “inflammatory” comedy constituted a violation of WHYY’s code of conduct and social media policy, which states that “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 said that he read this policy as not incorporating a “reasonable person” standard, meaning that workers “must be vigilant not to post anything on social media that could conceivably be interpreted as inflammatory even by highly sensitive and thin-skinned individuals without an appreciation for irony or satire.” 


“That’s nuts, right?” Sleiman said. 

The arbitrator performed an in-depth analysis of the nine comedy samples to determine whether they were in violation of this reading of the policy. Though parts of some jokes were deemed potentially inflammatory, many were found to be either funny or an astute critique of some institution of power. 

Of “Kind of Racist,” the arbitrator wrote that it was “a powerful condemnation, in a funny way, of what [Sleiman] calls corporatized racial consciousness.” About “Trump vs Muslims vs Jews,” he wrote that “much of the clip is somewhat amusing.” Another joke was “simply funny.” 

The arbitrator was not a fan across the board. They found that one joke  was “insightful, principled and serious, but not very funny.” Sleiman said he was disappointed by this review. 

The arbitrator ordered on December 29 that Sleiman be reinstated in full. When asked whether he believed he would have gotten his job back without SAG-AFTRA involvement, Sleiman said, “No. No, I would have been screwed completely, because Pennsylvania is an at-will state, so they could have just fired me and that would have been the end of it. The fact that it’s a union shop is actually the whole reason I was able to fight back at all.” 

The union is “extremely gratified that the arbitrator agreed with SAG-AFTRA that the employer violated Jad’s right to due process and ordered him put back to work with full back pay,” SAG-AFTRA Philadelphia local executive director Stephen Lishinski told Motherboard in a statement. “There is a strong union at WHYY made up of creative and industrious members. We are glad to see this validation of the principles of just cause in the workplace.”


“Something that the union is kind of concerned about is the way remote work has changed the way we work,” Sleiman said. “We’re always online, on Slack and shit, so when are we off the clock? Couple that with ever widening definitions of racist, sexist, whatever and you have an atmosphere where you’re always at work, which is a place you can say less and less,” according to the arbitrator’s interpretation of the policy.

Sleiman said he expects to start working again in the coming week, unless the company decides to appeal the arbitration decision.

“I’m going to walk in there like fucking Vince McMahon,” he said, laughing. “I’m very curious to see how much they spent—Duane Morris is some of the biggest in the country. 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.” 

A WHYY spokesperson told Motherboard in an email that the station was reviewing the arbitrator’s decision and would be deciding on next steps in the near future.  

In a statement to Philadelphia Magazine on Wednesday, a WHYY spokesperson wrote, “We are evaluating the decision, any appeal options and next steps. While we do not agree with all of the arbitrator’s conclusions, we certainly accept the arbitrator’s decision that Mr. Sleiman needs to permanently remove all inflammatory or offensive social media posts as a condition of any future employment at WHYY.”

“WHYY, as a trusted news organization, has no tolerance for behavior that demeans any individual or group based on their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual preference or other protected status,” the statement continued.

Sleiman told Motherboard on Thursday that he has contacted a defamation lawyer.

Correction: An earlier version of this story characterized WHYY as an NPR affiliate. It is an NPR member station.