Black Girls Code filed a lawsuit Monday alleging its founder Kimberly Bryant, who was ousted from her role as a board member and chief executive earlier this month, has “hijacked” the nonprofit’s website.
The heart of the complaint, which was filed with the U.S District Court for the Northern District of California, is over control of the Black Girls Code website. The complaint alleges that Bryant “took a series of inappropriate actions following her termination, including the unlawful hijacking of the BGC website and redirecting site visitors to her own website, which makes several false and misleading statements.”
The lawsuit is the latest in an intensifying legal and corporate battle between Bryant, who created the nonprofit in 2011 to diversify the coding landscape, and the board that she appointed. Bryant filed her own federal lawsuit August 11 alleging wrongful suspension and conflict of interest by board member Heather Hiles.
In the lawsuit filed Monday, BGC alleges that its domains — including blackgirlscode.com, blackgirlscode.org, blackgirlscode.site and blackgirlscode.net — all redirect to saveblackgirlscode.com as of the time of publication. That website offers a memo with the details of Bryant’s aforementioned federal lawsuit, including her lawyer’s contact information.
Bryant declined to comment on the new set of allegations when reached for comment. (Update 8/23/2022: After the publication of this story, Bryant reached out with an official statement. She says that the allegations set against her are false, and instead are “demonstrative of a pattern of abuse by Board Chairperson, Heather Hiles and other members of a self-delegated “special committee” to spread false allegations and blatant misrepresentations with malice and intent.” Bryant told TechCrunch that she will update her federal lawsuit with this information as further proof of defamation.)
Problems first surfaced in December 2021 when Bryant says she was denied access to her email, which she eventually learned was a result of being indefinitely suspended from the nonprofit by her board. At the time, the board told TechCrunch that Bryant was placed on administrative paid leave to review complaints against her.
Allegations from the board — reinforced by multiple interviews that TechCrunch conducted with former BGC employees — included Bryant misgendering a staff member and creating a toxic work environment. Bryant has denied these allegations. The board told TechCrunch in December that it would form a special committee to investigate the aforementioned allegations but declined to provide a specific timeline.
Bryant would lose her job eight months later.
Black Girls Code terminated Bryant on August 12th. Bryant tweeted in response, stating that she had been “wrongly removed” and “without cause or an opportunity to participate in a vote of these actions.”
Days later, she tweeted that she was offered no severance, healthcare assistance or a vacation payout, the latter of which she is entitled to by law in California, where BGC is based.
“Sounds like retaliation?” she tweeted regarding the lack of severance. A Black Girls Code spokesperson said that Bryant was paid her accrued vacation in accordance with California law, but declined to comment on her severance and healthcare assistance allegations.
In a statement provided to TechCrunch last week, a Black Girls Code spokesperson said the group “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 serves, its employees, and its donors. BGC has been focusing its efforts on moving forward and expanding on the success of the organization since its inception.” The same spokesperson sent a newly filed complaint earlier today.
TechCrunch was unable to access the Black Girls Code website last week, when the nonprofit tweeted that its website was down. The complaint offers a different angle on the matter: “Since she was put on paid leave in December, Bryant has sought to harm BGC by (among other things) refusing to relinquish control over BGC’s property and assets, including administrative credentials to BGC’s website, claiming and treating them as her own despite clear ownership by the organization.”
The nonprofit claims that Bryant’s conduct violates federal and state statutes and “has caused irreparable harm to BGC’s operation and mission in the community.” The alleged takeover would not be entirely unusual: Marceau Michel, the founder of Black Founders Matter, cut his firm colleagues’ access to the website when he was being told to resign. The team eventually created new emails, designed a new website and rebranded into an entirely new fund.
In the complaint, BGC says the website was managed and controlled by the nonprofit, but alleges that Bryant used her daughter’s email account when first creating the website in 2011. “Such control grants the individual or individuals the ability to change, delete, or otherwise alter the content, functioning, or existence of the website,” the lawsuit reads.
Black Girls Code’s complaint says the nonprofit is “taking action to restore its web presence” and is using its Twitter account for correspondence in the meantime. The nonprofit claims that it has served more girls this summer than in years prior, and “has never been in a stronger position.”
In the lawsuit, BGC demanded a trial by jury. A spokesperson for BGC declined to provide further comment.