Maryland LBGTQ advocacy and legal services organization FreeState Justice was granted a temporary restraining order against a recently fired executive director who it claims sabotaged internal IT systems and posted a letter on the organization’s website accusing its board of white supremacy, federal court records show.
In a complaint filed Wednesday, the nonprofit said that after Jeremy LaMaster was fired last week, the former executive director “immediately began a coordinated attack on FreeState’s operations; in particular, its IT assets.”
United States District Judge Deborah Boardman granted Baltimore-based FreeState a temporary restraining order against LaMaster on Wednesday. A hearing is scheduled for Monday morning.
After leaving a Sept. 16 termination meeting, LaMaster began changing user permissions and login information on various systems, preventing staff from accessing case files, email accounts and FreeState’s website, the complaint said.
LaMaster posted a statement on FreeState’s website without authorization, accusing the board of directors of consolidating power by limiting new members and putting relationships with legislators over policy priorities. The statement characterized the board’s “concentration of power” and “fear of open conflict” as “hallmarks of White Supremacist Culture.”
FreeState’s complaint called LaMaster’s claims that its board was unethical and insufficiently anti-racist “defamatory.” In a statement Thursday, FreeState wrote that LaMaster’s post did not represent the organization’s ideals, adding that the board fulfills its fiduciary duties and promotes diversity and inclusion.
LaMaster, who uses the pronouns they and he, said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun that they did not believe the board was functioning as a legitimate authority that could fire them. In their post, also sent to FreeState’s 43,000-person mailing list, LaMaster wrote that they resigned, not that they were fired.
LaMaster said that though they did alter some of FreeState’s systems and logins, those actions were to ensure linked systems still would function after LaMaster’s user permissions were revoked and that data was sufficiently backed up.
“I’m trying to do my best to ensure a smooth transition. I’m not trying to hold anyone hostage or stop anything from happening,” LaMaster said. “I did my job to make sure our security protocols were followed.”
The Morning Sun
Phillip Westry, FreeState’s new executive director who will share leadership responsibilities with Deputy Executive Director Tina Jones, disputed LaMaster’s version of events.
“This was coordinated, this was purposeful and it was so he could control a message,” Westry said in an interview. “It harmed the staff’s everyday work and it’s hard to know how many clients were harmed.”
By Thursday, Westry estimated the organization had regained control of about 60% of its systems after being forced to use text groups and personal email accounts to conduct work earlier in the week.
LaMaster also defended the decision to post a statement called “Whistleblowing: Public Call for the Resignation of the FreeState Board of Directors,” which Westry called “a ranting email.”
“There are no other mechanisms that I’m really aware of to ensure the community we serve are informed about the actions of our board and how, in my perspective, they are the ones harming the organization and taking it in a direction that really jeopardizes its future,” LaMaster said.
Westry said Thursday that he was looking forward to fully returning to the organization’s work defending clients facing housing discrimination, advocating for health care access and aiding LGBTQ youth at risk of suicide and self-harm.
“That was what he took away from us for a few days,” Westry said, “just focusing on that work.”