College fires IT admin, loses access to Google email, successfully sues IT admin for $250,000

Sacked techie claims school retaliated over race complaint

Gmail icon photo by I AM NIKOM via Shutterstock

Shortly after the American College of Education (ACE) in Indiana fired IT administrator Triano Williams in April, 2016, it found that it no longer had any employees with admin access to the Google email service used by the school.

In a lawsuit [PDF] filed against Williams in July, 2016, the school alleges that it asked Williams to return his work laptop, which was supposed to have the password saved. But when Williams did so in May that year, the complaint says, the computer was returned wiped, with a new operating system, and damaged to the point it could no longer be used.

ACE claimed that its students could not access their Google-hosted ACE email accounts or their online coursework.

The school appealed to Google, but Google at the time refused to help because the ACE administrator account had been linked to William's personal email address.

"By setting up the administrator account under a non-ACE work email address, Mr Williams violated ACE's standard protocol with respect to administrator accounts," the school's complaint states. "ACE was unaware that Mr Williams' administrator account was not linked to his work address until after his employment ended."

According to the school's court filing, Williams, through his attorney, said he would help the school reinstate its Google administrator account, provided the school paid $200,000 to settle his dispute over the termination of his employment.

That amount is less than half the estimated $500,000 in harm the school says it has suffered due to its inability to access its Google account, according to a letter from William's attorney in Illinois, Calvita J Frederick.

Frederick's letter claims that another employee set up the Google account and made Williams an administrator, but not the controlling administrator. It says the school locked itself out of the admin account through too many failed password attempts.

Williams, in a counter-suit [PDF] filed last month, claims his termination followed from a pattern of unlawful discrimination by the school in the wake of a change in management.

In a phone interview with The Register, Frederick said she filed a federal lawsuit in Illinois against the school, which has yet to respond. "We would hope that the [school's] action in Indianapolis would be viewed as retaliation, which we believe it was, and that judgement would be vacated and we would prevail in the discrimination claim."

Pointing to the complaint she filed with the court in Illinois, Frederick said Williams wrote a letter [PDF] to a supervisor complaining about the poor race relations at the school and, as a result of that letter, he was told he had to relocate to Indianapolis. "That's how the whole thing started," she said. "His working remotely has always been a condition of his employment."

The school, she said, knew he could not do that because of parental obligations requiring him to remain in Illinois.

'Sad situation'

Frederick said the school has been subject to several discrimination claims over the past two years. "It's a sad situation," she said.

The complaint filed by Williams alleges he, as an African American, was paid less than workers of other racial or ethnic backgrounds.

"Rather than support Williams in his position of IT Systems Administrator, Defendants intentionally discriminated against Williams by refusing to allow Williams to participate in work-related training; paying Williams less than his co-workers, subjecting Williams to unwarranted scrutiny, refusing to promote Williams to management – all the while requiring him to perform the job of manager – holding secret meetings so as to hide the promotion of others from Williams, making it uncomfortable, humiliating and almost impossible for Williams to do the job he was assigned to do," Williams' complaint says.

It further alleges that Williams' objections to unfair treatment brought retaliation, like the requirement that he track all his duties and time in 15 minute increments, something only one other employee, another African American, was required to do.

Williams, according to court documents, resides in Illinois due to a joint parenting agreement and had for years been allowed to work remotely under his contract with ACE. The school's actions against him, his complaint suggests, are retaliatory.

In September, the Marion County Superior Court judge hearing the school's case in Indiana issued a default judgement of almost $250,000 after Williams did not appear in court, according to the Indianapolis Star.

Frederick said she could not immediately confirm the details of the judgement in Indiana. ACE's attorneys were not immediately available to address the issue.

Williams' complaint claims he cannot afford to represent himself in Indiana and has been unable to obtain legal representation there.

In an emailed statement, Melissa Markovsky, senior director of communications and marketing for ACE, said the school has a policy of not commenting on pending legal issues.

"As this case is moving through the court system, we are not able to discuss the lawsuit at this time," she said. "What we can affirm is that we have taken steps to ensure that our information technology policies are more effectively implemented moving forward in order to mitigate a future circumstance similar to this incident."

Google has returned control of the account to ACE, according to Markovsky. ®


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