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Housing Authority fires its maintenance staff's union president over alleged email misuse

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City fired its maintenance staff’s union president Thursday after the agency says the worker intercepted emails intended for other employees.

Janet Abrahams, who runs the housing authority, said a forensic investigation showed Anthony Coates or someone acting on his behalf intentionally created fake email accounts that redirected messages intended for other employees to his inbox. Coates, a 25-year housing employee and president of AFSCME Local 647, said his termination took him by surprise and he denies he was involved in a scheme to intercept emails.

“Please know HABC will absolutely not tolerate this type of behavior at any time,” Abrahams wrote in a memo sent to the agency’s employees.

Abrahams said an internal investigation showed that Coates obtained sensitive information by diverting the emails to his account. Although she declined to provide specifics, she said the scheme also resulted in issues not being resolved on time.

The agency claims Coates also used the information he surreptitiously obtained as an advantage in meetings between the union and management, Abrahams said. Her emails were among some that were affected, she said.

Coates, 63, said his firing was in retaliation for his efforts to fight wrongful terminations and the agency’s failure to follow proper grievance procedures in matters involving several maintenance workers.

“I am not that savvy with the computer,” he said. “They set me up.”

Coates said he believes the problem stems from an email the agency’s chief human resource officer, Kimberly Graham, sent to reprimand him for using a private email account, not the one given to him by the agency. Coates said he replied to the message that Graham sent to him and a dozen managers and supervisors about two months ago.

“These accounts are not fake,” Coates said. “Ms. Graham sent them.”

Coates said he has been challenging Graham for unfair labor practices involving at least three maintenance workers.

On Thursday, Coates said he was of the understanding that he was attending a meeting to discuss the employment status of a union worker. Instead, he said he was handed a letter firing him. In firing him, he also alleges, the agency failed to follow proper steps for disciplining workers.

George Gisin, an AFSCME labor consultant, said the union plans to immediately file a grievance. He said the housing authority needs to prove Coates misused emails.

Gisin said he found Coates’ termination to be “a bit unusual.” He said Coates was not asked to provide his account of events before he was fired and asked to leave.

Abrahams said the agency stands behind Graham and her disciplinary decisions involving Coates and the other union workers. Coates was fired, rather than first facing less severe disciplinary measures, because of the severity of the wrongdoing, she said.

“The housing authority would never have done anything from a retaliation standpoint,” Abrahams said. “We would never have done anything unless we did a thorough investigation.

“The housing authority takes these types of egregious behaviors very seriously.”

ywenger@baltsun.com

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