An employee at UAB apparently used a state computer to send a hate-filled e-mail to a gay-rights organization.
UAB (University of Alabama at Birmingham) has announced no disciplinary action against the employee.
UAB, of course, is my former employer. The university fired me in May, after 19 years of service, for vague reasons that appeared to center on allegations that I had used my university computer to work on my personal blog.
A UAB investigation of my computer usage showed I never had worked on my blog from my work computer, and a UAB grievance hearing found that I should not have been fired. But UAB President Carol Garrison upheld my termination anyway.
Lindsay Beyerstein reported on my case in a major investigative piece at Raw Story. The Chronicle of Higher Education also picked up on the story.
Substantial evidence indicates that I was fired because my blog exposes corruption among Republican public officials in Alabama and is critical of the Bush Justice Department, particularly its handling of the Don Siegelman prosecution.
We are investigating several leads that suggest my termination was driven by pressure from people with ties to the Alabama Republican Party.
Ebony Hall, a reporter for Birmingham's ABC 33/40, broke the anti-gay e-mail story in a broadcast on Wednesday night. The Web site Left in Alabama picked up on the story yesterday.
The e-mail, sent from a uab.edu account, apparently went to a gay-rights Web site in Los Angeles. The author referred to gays as "freaks" and "the scourge of the earth" and said gays were "responsible for everything wrong in this sorry world."
Jonathan Quinn, president of Central Alabama Pride, called the e-mail contents "shocking," particularly since they originated from taxpayer-funded equipment.
A UAB statement released to ABC 33/40 said the university was looking into the matter. If such conduct occurred, the statement said, it would violate the university's acceptable-use policy and appropriate action would be taken.
UAB's statement raises several issues here at Legal Schnauzer:
* I've read the UAB employee handbook from cover to cover, and I've yet to see a policy regarding use of computers and the Internet. If it's in there, it's well hidden.
* Considering that I was fired, even though UAB's own investigation showed I wasn't using my computer for my blog, one can only assume that an employee who did use UAB equipment for an improper reason--to send a bigoted e-mail--will be fired pronto. So far, no word on whether that has happened.
* Of course, UAB has been wildly inconsistent in applying its non-policies regarding computer use. In 2004 one of my former coworkers, Doug Gillett, was caught actually blogging and conducting a variety of political activities on his work computer. (Doug was a volunteer with the John Kerry campaign at the time; I consider him both a friend, a like-minded thinker, and an all-around swell guy.) Engaging in political activity on state equipment is a clear violation of UAB policy and probably state ethics law. But Doug apparently received only a written warning and still works at UAB. Of course, he was about 25 years old at the time, and I was 51. Is it little wonder that UAB has a variety of discrimination lawsuits pending against it at this moment?
The recent anti-gay e-mail raises a number of questions about UAB, which is supported by taxpayer dollars, receives huge amounts of federal research funds, and is bound to conduct itself in an nondiscriminatory manner:
* Who is this woman and what office does she work in on campus? Is this an isolated incident or has this kind of hateful speech been tolerated, even encouraged, in her work environment for some time?
* Who is this woman's supervisor? Why wasn't the supervisor on top of the woman's activities? What vice president does this supervisor report to? And where was President Carol Garrison when this was going on?
* Was this woman's computer usage monitored at any point? According to testimony in my grievance hearing, UAB conducted an investigation of my computer usage in Feburary/March 2008. Were such investigations conducted campuswide, and if so, what showed up on this woman's computer? (I know the answer to that one. I was targeted specifically for investigation. No one else in my department was monitored, much less people on other parts of campus.)
* Is UAB run by an administration that takes massive amounts of taxpayer dollars on one hand, but tolerates bigoted, hateful speech on the other? Does UAB protect employees who express "conservative" viewpoints on university time, while terminating those who express progressive viewpoints on their own time?
That's exactly what appears to be happening.