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Monday, October 15, 2018

Muslim woman fired by Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg files discrimination lawsuit

Posted By on Mon, Oct 15, 2018 at 4:42 PM

A Muslim woman fired by Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg last year filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month alleging he discriminated against her based on gender, race and religion.

Seminole County resident Minaz Mukhi-Skees accuses Greenberg of firing "minority employees," making anti-Muslim posts on social media and dismissing her from her position at his office three days after coming back from pregnancy leave, according to the lawsuit filed Oct. 5 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. The complaint also names Seminole County Clerk of the Courts Grant Maloy. 

Back in August, Greenberg received intense public backlash after posting an Islamophobic question on Facebook that said, "Very simple question...Name just ONE society in the developed world that has benefited in ANY WAY from the introduction of more Muslims. Just one. Asking for a friend." A further search of Greenberg's social media activity revealed a long history of bigoted social media posts. Greenberg ultimately took down the original post, though he has refused to apologize.

In the complaint, Mukhi-Skees, who describes herself as of Asian-Indian descent, says she began working for former Seminole County Tax Collector Ray Valdes in November 2014 as a customer service representative and accounting clerk.

Mukhi-Skees performed her job satisfactorily and was praised for her work by peers and colleagues. She was offered a 7 percent raise and told by an administrative officer that she was still needed at the tax collector's office, according to the lawsuit.

But then Valdes, who was elected to the position in 1998, lost to Greenberg in the 2016 Republican primary election. After Greenberg took office in January 2017, Mukhi-Skees took approved maternity leave on April 12.

After two months, she returned to work on June 19. Three days later, on June 22, she was terminated from her position.

"No valid reason existed to terminate Plaintiff," the lawsuit stated. "No valid reason was given to Plaintiff regarding her termination."

Mukhi-Skees alleges that she and four other "minority employees" were terminated by Greenberg soon after he was elected. After she was fired, Mukhi-Skees was hired to work at the Seminole County Clerk of the Courts office.

She filed a discrimination complaint against Greenberg's office with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agency on Aug. 19 for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Family Medical Leave Act.  Three days after Greenberg's office received notice of the complaint on Sept. 15, Mukhi-Skees alleges she was fired from Clerk of the Courts office.

"The Clerk of the Court informed Plaintiff that she was an [at-will] employee and that her employment had been terminated," the lawsuit said. "Plaintiff was later told that Grant Maloy … indicated that her termination was not his decision and that his department had been instructed to terminate Plaintiff's employment by the Human Resources Department for Seminole County."

Orlando Weekly reached out to Maloy for a comment but did not receive an immediate response. Maloy, though, did tell the Orlando Sentinel that Mukhi-Skees was terminated for "poor performance," adding that her allegations "are kind of imaginary. We're super-diverse here." Greenberg's office has a policy of not commenting on ongoing litigation, according to spokesperson Alan Byrd.

In her complaint, Mukhi-Skees included Facebook posts from Greenberg. In a Facebook post following the 2017 bombings in Manchester, Greenberg said, "This is the reality of unchecked Muslim immigration." The lawsuit also alleges that on Dec. 5, 2015, Greenberg posted a cartoon of a woman wearing a full-length chador and niqab with a bulge on her back saying, "Does this bomb make my butt look big?"

"Plaintiff was treated fairly, and with dignity and respect prior to Joel Greenberg being elected," the complaint stated. "Defendants' actions demonstrate a pattern of discrimination based on sex, race and religion."

Mukhi-Skees is asking for more than $250,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, as well as back pay, front pay and attorney fees.

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