Black Girls Code files lawsuit against ousted founder over alleged ‘hijacking’ of website

In a complaint filed on Monday, Black Girls Code claims that its founder Kimberly Bryant, who was fired from her position as chief executive and board member earlier this month, “hijacked” the nonprofit’s website.

The dispute over possession of the Black Girls Code website is at the centre of the case, which was submitted to the US District Court for the Northern District of California. Bryant “did a number of improper steps following her firing,” according to the lawsuit, “including the unlawful hijacking of the BGC website and diverting site visitors to her own website, which makes various false and deceptive representations.”

The complaint is the most recent development in a growing legal and business conflict between Bryant, who founded the organization in 2011 to diversify the coding landscape, and the board she chose. Bryant brought a federal complaint against the board member Heather Hiles on August 11, citing wrongful termination and conflict of interest.

Black Girls Code claims that as of the time of writing, all of its domain names, including blackgirlscode.com, blackgirlscode.org, blackgirlscode.site, and blackgirlscode.net, redirect to saveblackgirlscode.com in the complaint it filed on Monday. That website provides a document with information about Bryant’s aforementioned federal case, including the phone number for her attorney.

The first signs of trouble, according to Bryant, were in December 2021 when she claims she was unable to access her email. She later discovered this was because her board had suspended her from the organization for an undetermined period of time. The board informed TechCrunch at the time that Bryant was put on administrative paid leave to look into the charges made against her.

Allegations from the board included Bryant misgendering a staff member and cultivating a hostile workplace, which were supported by many interviews TechCrunch conducted with former BGC workers. Bryant has refuted these charges. The board informed TechCrunch in December that a special committee will be established to look into the aforementioned claims, but it would not provide a time frame.

Eight months later, Bryant would be fired from her position.

Bryant was fired by Black Girls Code on August 12. She had been “wrongly removed” and “without justification or an opportunity to participate in a vote of these measures,” Bryant tweeted in response.

Days later, she tweeted that BGC, which is located in California, did not provide her severance money, healthcare aid, or a vacation payment, even though the latter is something to which she is legally entitled in that state.

Regarding the absence of severance, she wrote, “Sounds like revenge.” A representative for Black Girls Code confirmed that Bryant received her earned vacation pay in compliance with California law, but she also claimed that she was denied severance pay and healthcare assistance.

Black Girls Code stated last week that it “believes the decision to remove Ms. Bryant as CEO and as a board member is in the best interests of the organization, the girls it supports, its workers, and its funders.” The same spokesman received a freshly filed complaint earlier today. “BGC has been focused its efforts on going ahead and growing on the accomplishments of the organization since its creation.

When the charity organization Black Girls Code tweeted that its website was down last week, TechCrunch was unable to access it. A different perspective on the issue is provided by the complaint: “Since she was placed on paid leave in December, Bryant has attempted to harm BGC by (among other things) refusing to relinquish control over BGC’s property and assets, including administrative access to BGC’s website, and treating them as her own despite being the organization’s obvious ownership,” the statement reads.

The nonprofit asserts that Bryant’s actions violate federal and state laws and “have caused irreparable harm to BGC’s operation and mission in the community.” The alleged takeover would not be entirely unheard of: Marceau Michel, the creator of Black Founders Matter, blocked access to the website for his company’s employees when he was being asked to resign. The team finally relaunched as a totally new fund, established a new website, and sent fresh emails.

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