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Fired IT manager sues PPS over long list of employment allegations

A Portland Public Schools employee is suing the district in federal court, saying PPS engaged in unlawful employment practices, including race and gender discrimination and retaliation to a whistleblower.

In a lengthy complaint filed in U.S. District Court Sept. 2, former IT manager Kathryn Rosson says she experienced a litany of mistreatment most particularly from Director of Technical Operations Ryan Whitman-Morales and IT contractor Edward Bye.

The lawsuit does not list an amount of damages sought by Rosson. Her ending annual salary at PPS was $89,889.96.

Whitman-Morales still works for the district, but an agency spokeswoman said Thursday, Sept. 15, that she was unable to reach key figures with knowledge of the case. "While the complaint has been filed in court, the district has not been served with the complaint," Interim Chief of Public Affairs and Information Courtney Westling wrote in an email.

Government agencies typically do not comment on pending litigation.

Bye retired in October 2015, according to LinkedIn, and the Tribune was unable to reach him for comment. His LinkedIn profile confirms his work on PPS bond projects and says he is an “energetic and decisive communicator who over the past twenty-five years has effectively interacted with all levels of management and as a focused team player has lead (sic) high performing teams using established Best Practices through implementation, change, and improvements.”

No trial date has been set for the case.

Filing complaint with HR

Rosson was fired Sept. 16, 2015, after being on paid administrative leave for three months. She had worked for the district for about a year, hired May 19, 2014, as senior manager of infrastructure and, according to court documents, served as an IT liaison to the Franklin and Roosevelt high school rebuild projects. The complaint says Rosson, who lives in Washington County, is of mixed ethnicity, including African-American. According to her LinkedIn profile, she has worked in the Oregon Legislature and the Portland Development Commission. She currently works at DNA Supply and Green Thumb Supply in Portland.

Rosson says that the district looked the other way on complaints that it was paying too much for substandard technology; that she was disparaged for following Courageous Conversations-inspired diversity policies; that her abilities and those of other IT professionals were downgraded for being female; and that she was verbally, sexually and physically assaulted by Bye.

The complaint describes a heated argument between Rosson and Bye in the Marshall High School library on June 16, 2015, as crews were readying the building for Franklin High School’s temporary move during reconstruction. Rosson says she entered the library and discovered Bye directing a crew to daisy-chain together electrical cords, against regulations. She says she asked her staff to work in classrooms instead until commercial power strips could be purchased.(Image is Clickable Link) LINKEDIN - Edward Bye

“Bye became highly agitated and instructed plantiff’s staff to ignore her instructions and continue working in the library,” according to the complaint filed by attorney John David Burgess with the Law Offices of Daniel Snyder.

Rosson alleges that during the ensuing argument Bye aggressively put an open hand in her face, close to her eyes and mouth. She left the situation after that, she says, returning to her desk to report an assault and file a complaint with human resources. Rosson says HR responded by putting her on administrative leave two days later.

The complaint also describes an incident at a Starbucks in April 2015 — when Rosson first met Bye — in which he put his hand on hers in a “sexually provocative” manner.

Money-saving measures

Rosson further alleged that throughout the time she worked on the IT Infrastructure Team she reported “the gross waste of public resources,” for which she alleges she was disciplined.

The primary argument revolves around noncompetitive contracts with Salt Lake City-based Mountain States Networking and Illinois-based CDW-G to provide equipment. Rosson says she alerted her superiors and the then-Chief of School Modernization CJ Sylvester that the district needed to update cabling standards for the district’s long-term goal of providing gigabyte broadband, otherwise the district would spend “hundreds of thousands of dollars retrofitting the buildings.” The complaint says district officials declined to update the standards due to worries about the budget.

Rosson also says that she came up with a plan — at the direction of her boss, Whitman-Morales — that would have provided the district a gigabyte wireless network at a 40 percent savings, but without using Cisco equipment.

“Mountain States Networking was the sole vendor for Cisco equipment to the detriment of the District as it is also the most expensive,” according to the complaint.

Mountain States Networking did not respond to a voice message request for comment Thursday afternoon.

Race discussion

Whitman-Morales is also named repeatedly in the lawsuit's allegations of differential treatment to Rosson and her direct superior for a time, Marita Ingalsbe, which she believes was on the basis of age, gender or race.

On Oct. 1, 2014, Rosson led a meeting of white men, which she said followed the Beyond Diversity and Courageous Conversations policies set by then-Superintendent Carole Smith. This included frank discussions of race. Two days later, she says in the complaint, Whitman-Morales “verbally rebuked her” for following the protocol.

“Whitman-Morales told Plaintiff that he did not agree with diversity initiatives. Whitman-Morales said that diversity initiatives, including the Beyond Diversity program, had never helped his own people and he was opposed to wasting time on diversity,” the complaint reads. “Whitman-Morales said that Beyond Diversity protocol was there, but they were not really supposed to follow the Courageous Conversations program.”