IT Management

College Lays Off Sys Admin and Loses Access to Google

An online college faced certain shutdown when it lost access to the login information for its Google accounts. It didn't help when the school laid off the lone employee who had that information and then refused to pay him for helping them out of the fiasco. Of course, the situation was exacerbated when the ex-staff member demanded $200,000 for his consulting time, an amount the college characterized as a form of cyber blackmail.

According to coverage in the Indianapolis Star, the situation unfolded this way. The American College of Education, a for-profit online teacher training institution in Indianapolis, hired Triano Williams in 2007 as a desktop support employee. By 2013, Williams, who worked remotely from Illinois, had been promoted to systems administrator.

Last year the college decided to bring its IT organization under one roof and in February offered Williams $10,000 for expenses tied to relocating to Indiana. If he chose not to make the move, his position would be terminated on April 1 and he would be entitled to a separation package equal to about three months of salary. For personal reasons Williams declined the offer. That's when the troubles began.

Before he left, Williams was the sole remaining sys admin. According to allegations in a lawsuit filed by the college in Indiana, Williams changed the login details for the school's Google account, disabling student access to -email, assignments and other coursework. A countersuit filed months later by Williams's attorney in Chicago stated that her client had saved the login ID and password to his work computer and then returned the laptop to the college, as it had requested. At that point, the suit reported, the college wiped the device storage.

By May the college had realized its blunder. Attempts to have Google grant access to its accounts were denied by the company. In the meantime, Williams refused multiple requests for his help in resolving the issue and referred the college to his attorney.

By June 30, 2016, American College had reached its breaking point. Google had suspended the domain account, locking out 2,000 students. Facing a potential "$500,000 in damages" due to lost enrollment, the college threatened suit if Williams didn't help.

His attorney responded with a counter-offer: Supply a check for $200,000 and a "clean letter of reference," and in return Williams would assist in reinstating the Google account.

The Indiana case settled in September for the college and the court ordered Williams to pay $248,350 in damages.

The countersuit filed in December by Williams's attorney suggested that race discrimination was the real issue. Previously, stated the complaint, the college had "faced a similar situation with an ex-employee," whose services were also required after he'd been terminated. In that case, the employee, who was white, had been paid a "sizable consultant fee" to perform the task needed. Williams is black.

The suit also alleged that Williams was paid less than his white co-workers and that the college failed to promote him to a management position, even after he had functioned as an interim manager. Likewise, two other employees faced the same relocation offer; one who was white and living in Texas was allowed to keep her job; the other, also black, was let go. Williams was really terminated, the grievance stated, for complaining about "discriminatory treatment of himself and others."

Williams's attorney has asked the federal court to throw out the judgment and take over jurisdiction.

Eventually, Google unlocked the college's account, but by then it had shifted to a new service provider.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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