Work/Life: When Things Go Wrong - InformationWeek
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John Foley
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Work/Life: When Things Go Wrong

Editor-at-large John Foley catches up with two IT pros who got fired after taking action. Work/Life is a column on some of the interesting people we meet.

It's been almost two years since Dorothea Perry and colleague Robert Gross were fired from their jobs as help-desk administrators at New York Law School a few months after reporting that they discovered child pornography on the computer of a tenured professor. Both IT professionals have found new employment. But the circumstances around their dismissals remain unclear--and the lawsuits they subsequently filed are unresolved.

For Perry, a 37-year-old single mother raising a grade-school-age son in Brooklyn, things have not gone well. After losing her job, she lived on unemployment checks, retirement savings, and borrowed money as she looked for work. "I'm one step away from poverty," she told me a few months ago over lunch at a Long Island diner. Perry's health suffered, too. She describes being in "a perpetual state of panic" after losing her job and says doctors diagnosed her condition as post-traumatic stress.

Dorothea Perry lost her job not long after she reported finding child pornography on the computer of a New York Law School professor. Photo by Sacha Lecca

Dorothea Perry lost her job not long after she reported finding child pornography on the computer of a New York Law School professor.

Photo by Sacha Lecca
Back in June 2002, Perry did what any responsible IT professional would do in a similar situation. During routine troubleshooting, she and Gross discovered sexually explicit thumbnail images of naked children on professor Edward Samuels' workplace PC. They reported it to a supervisor, Samuels was arrested about 10 weeks later, and a subsequent police investigation yielded thousands of similar images on his home computer. Samuels pleaded guilty and was given a six-month jail sentence. He was released from New York's Riker's Island in February after serving four months.

Despite their actions, or because of them, Perry and Gross found themselves in deteriorating work situations. They were put on probation by Collegis Inc., the IT outsourcing company that employed them under contract to New York Law, for job-performance issues, and on Oct. 22, 2002, both were fired. (See Business Technology: Right Is Right, So Let's Make It Unequivocal and Troubling Discovery for previous coverage.) Collegis has since been acquired by SunGard Data Systems Inc.

Perry and Gross filed suit in New York State Supreme Court early last year against New York Law and Collegis, claiming they were fired in retaliation for reporting Samuels. Last fall, Perry filed a second suit in federal court, charging racial discrimination and retaliation. New York Law and Collegis have denied that the dismissals were related to the child-porn incident, and Collegis a year ago issued a statement suggesting its former employees were let go because their work wasn't up to snuff. Perry and Gross had received favorable job-performance appraisals before getting axed.

However, the courts haven't smiled on their cases. In July, the judge overseeing Perry's racial-discrimination suit sent the case against Collegis to arbitration, where it will be treated as an employment-contract dispute. The claims in that case against New York Law have been stayed, pending developments in the state case. (Perry filed a racial-discrimination suit against New York Law in 1997 that was settled out of court.)

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