august-17-01An AOL employee recently found out that the Internet takes corporate justice very seriously indeed. During a confidential employee meeting, AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong snapped at one of the company’s creative directors for taking photos and fired him on the spot.

The employee in question was Abel Lenz, one of AOL’s head creative directors on a new project from the company called Patch. After snapping a photo of Armstrong in the middle of his presentation to employees, Lenz was dismissed from his job on the spot with a succinct “you’re fired” from his boss.

The incident resulted in a huge amount of online coverage from business journalists and culture gurus alike debating whether the firing was a legitimate response to an annoying camera activity or an emotional outburst aimed at an employee. The latter explanation is winning out, particularly on business blogs critical of AOL.

The meeting, somewhat ironically, was about large-scale cutbacks that will begin to take place at AOL. Patch, a local news service launched by the company, will remove hundreds of employees over the coming months. For employees, the shock firing hit close to home – many of those in the crowd could lose their jobs in the near future.

Armstrong has apologized for the very public dismissal, claiming that his outburst was an ‘emotional response.’ He defended the firing, however, claiming that photos were not permitted at the confidential meeting, and that leaks had threatened the project in the past, leading to a greater focus on digital security.

AOL’s Patch project has been covered at length in the tech media, mostly in negative terms. The local news service has largely failed to attract the audience it was aimed at, resulting in upcoming cutbacks likely to affect hundreds of AOL employees.

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