Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Did Debt Collectors Cheat Me Out of My Job at UAB, Part III

We've laid out evidence that suggests debt collectors might have played a prominent role in my unlawful termination at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). And we've presented evidence of a possible connection between a debt collector and the sleazy attorney who is largely responsible for our legal headaches.

But how could that connection have had an influence on UAB? Is there evidence to suggest UAB was acting with an ulterior motive, one partly driven by debt collectors, when it fired me without cause after 19 years of service?

Perhaps the best way to answer those questions is to look at the power structure at UAB. It's also helpful to look at the grievance hearing on my termination. That's where Pam Powell, my former supervisor, dropped some curious information about the university's examination of my workspace after I was gone.

First, let's consider the grievance hearing, which I've written about it here and here. To work somewhere for 19 years, be wrongfully fired, and then have to sit through a four-hour hearing about your bogus termination is a surreal experience. You see people you once considered friends come in and repeatedly stab you in the back. And this question keeps coming to your mind, "How many lies are these people going to tell in an effort to justify the unjustifiable?"

The answer, in my hearing, was "quite a few." But here's the strange thing: While trying to support a story that doesn't hold up, in an official proceeding, people can say some revealing things.

That happened when Pam Powell started talking about what happened to my workspace after I was gone. The termination letter I received was vague, but the main charge seemed to be that I somehow was using the Web on my work computer to help produce this blog. Never mind that UAB's own IT expert in the grievance hearing testified that I had never written the first word of the blog on my work computer. Never mind that part of my job description was to use the Web to keep up with current events and trends in new media, so UAB's contention that I was "researching my blog" doesn't hold water, either. I was doing my job--or part of it, anyway.

But here's the point: Everything that was communicated to me, both verbally and in writing, indicated that UAB's concern was with my use of the Web at work.

In the grievance hearing, however, Powell made it clear that someone had thoroughly searched my computer after I was gone. Powell said something to the effect that, "We found a number of personal documents on Roger's computer."

Well, they could only do that by going through my hard drive. But material on my hard drive was never an issue in my termination. I indeed had some personal items in a folder on my desktop, and that's because our departmental IT guy had put the folder there and said we all had such folders for our personal use. I didn't ask for it and didn't particularly want it. But since it was provided, I made modest use of it--and never for any improper purpose.

One of many ironies about my termination is that UAB, as I was being kicked to the curb, acted as if it long had been ultra strict about personal use of work computers. In fact, our department actually encouraged personal use of work computers.

Anyway, at no point did UAB ever hint that there was anything wrong with how I had used my university-provided personal folder. But according to Pam Powell, someone went through my personal folder--and apparently my entire hard drive--once I was gone.

Why? I had already been fired. They apparently had all the information they felt was necessary to justify that. And again, that had been in the form of my Web usage. Why did they care what was on my hard drive?

Well, here is a possible answer: In the last few months I worked at UAB, I met with several attorneys--on my free time--about filing a possible lawsuit against Pennsylvania-based NCO and Birmingham-based Ingram & Associates for multiple violations of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act.

I provided several of those attorneys with digital copies of recordings I'd made of my conversations with representatives from Ingram & Associates about a debt I allegedly owed to American Express. I kept the original tape in a safe place at home and put one copy in my desk drawer at work.

My guess is that one or more of the attorneys I consulted, who did not take the case, notified Angie Ingram that a guy who worked at UAB had a heck of an FDCPA lawsuit against her--with tape recordings to back it up.

Have I mentioned on this blog that lawyers tend to protect one another? Well, they do, and they will violate all kinds of ethical rules in order to do it. Someone probably violated my attorney-client privilege in an effort to alert Angie Ingram that a UAB employee could cause her big trouble.

I suspect that's where William E. Swatek, and his family ties to the Alabama Republican Party, rode to the rescue. We've already mentioned a possible alliance between Ingram and Swatek. And we've written many times that Dax Swatek, Bill's son, is a GOP consultant who has served as campaign manager for Governor Bob Riley.

What position does Bob Riley hold as part of being governor? He is ex oficio president of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, which oversees UAB.

As a favor to Bill Swatek and Angie Ingram, would someone close to Bob Riley have made sure that a certain UAB employee got cheated out of his job? I would say the answer is yes.

And how might that have helped Swatek and Ingram? For Ingram, it would have given someone the opportunity to scour my UAB computer in search of the audiofiles that prove her law firm had violated federal law in rampant fashion. Perhaps that's why Pam Powell made the reference to someone going over my hard drive. For Swatek, and perhaps Riley, it would have put them in position to receive some sort of favor from Ingram or her firm. In the world of backscratching Alabama politics and law, God only knows what that might have been.

Unfortunately for the UAB cyber sleuths, I did not keep a copy of the digital audio files on my work computer--so they didn't find much of interest. But here is something curious: When UAB returned the personal items that had been in my desk, several things were missing. And one of them was the extra copy of the audio cassette I kept at work. It was labeled "Copy: Ingram & Associates."

It finally came in the mail one day, some eight to 10 months after I had been fired. It was in a UAB envelope, with no explanation. Interestingly, it came after my wife and I had already sued Ingram & Associates and disclosed in court documents that we had audio files of my conversations with Ingram's representatives.

In other words, once it was clear that having a copy of the tape was not going to do Ingram & Associates any good, it was returned to me.


Now, we will try to tie all of this together by asking this question: Does the notion that debt collectors helped cheat me out of my job at UAB make chronological sense? Does it fit within a timeline of key events?

We will look at those issues next.

(To be continued)

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