Tax col­lec­tor faces dis­crim­i­na­tion law­suit

Green­berg ac­cused of vi­o­lat­ing law by woman he fired

Orlando Sentinel - - LOCAL & STATE - By Stephen Hu­dak

Semi­nole County Tax Col­lec­tor Joel Green­berg, crit­i­cized in Au­gust for so­cial me­dia posts la­beled by some crit­ics as Is­lam­o­pho­bic, is now the tar­get of a fed­eral dis­crim­i­na­tion law­suit filed by a Mus­lim woman he fired last year.

The law­suit, filed by for­mer ac­count­ing clerk/cus­tomer-ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mi­naz MukhiS­kees, cites Green­berg's posts, in­clud­ing a car­toon of a woman in a chador with a bulge on her back say­ing, “Does this bomb make my butt look big?”

Of­ten worn by Mus­lim women, a chador is a cloth that cov­ers the head and up­per body like a wrap.

The law­suit, which also names Semi­nole County Clerk of Courts Grant Maloy as a de­fen­dant, ac­cuses Green­berg of vi­o­lat­ing the Fam­ily Leave Act and fed­eral em­ploy­ment laws re­gard­ing sex, race and re­li­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion. Maloy, who hired Mukhi-Skees in the fall of 2017 af­ter she was ter­mi­nated by Green­berg, is ac­cused in the suit of fir­ing her as re­tal­i­a­tion for lodg­ing a com­plaint against Green­berg with the U.S. Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­nity Com­mis­sion.

He said she was ter­mi­nated dur­ing a pro­ba­tion­ary pe­riod for “poor per­for­mance.”

“Her al­le­ga­tions are kind of imag­i­nary,” Maloy said in re­sponse to the law­suit. “We’re su­per-di­verse here.”

Through a spokesman, Green­berg, 33, de­clined com­ment. He was elected tax col­lec­tor in 2016, de­feat­ing fel­low Repub­li­can and in­cum­bent Ray Valdes in a GOP pri­mary be­fore van­quish­ing a write-in op­po­nent that Novem­ber be­cause Semi­nole Democrats did not field a can­di­date.

Mukhi-Skees, hired Nov. 3, 2014, had earned sat­is­fac­tory per­for­mance eval­u­a­tions un­der Valdes and won praise from col­leagues and peers, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit, which was filed in fed­eral court in Or­lando.

In a sworn com­plaint to EEOC, Mukhi-Skees said she an ap­proved ma­ter­nity leave from the April 12, 2007, to June 19, 2017, but re­turned early from leave be­cause an ad­min­is­tra­tor told her she was needed.

“Al­though I was of­fered a to­tal raise of 7 % and pos­sessed the only four-year de­gree within the Ac­count­ing Depart­ment, I was ter­mi­nated three days af­ter my re­turn...” she wrote.

The law­suit al­leged she was given no valid rea­son. MukhiS­kees is seek­ing more than $250,000 in com­pen­satory and puni­tive dam­ages, in­clud­ing back pay and at­tor­ney fees.

Mukhi-Skees noted she was one of five mi­nor­ity em­ploy­ees ter­mi­nated or “con­struc­tively dis­charged” by Green­berg. Con­struc­tive dis­charge refers to an em­ployee who re­signs due to a hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ment. She de­scribed her­self in EEOC doc­u­ments as of Asian-In­dian de­scent.

The EEOC fil­ing also in­cluded an Aug. 18 Face­book post by Green­berg that read: “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.”

He later re­moved the post, and he is­sued a state­ment on Aug. 20 say­ing “he did not mean to of­fend any­one.”

But some area Democrats or­ga­nized protests at his Lake Mary of­fice, chant­ing “Green­berg’s gotta go!”

“I will not let any­one in­tim­i­date me, my peo­ple or any marginal­ized com­mu­nity,” Rasha Mubarak, pres­i­dent of the Young Democrats of Or­ange County and a Mus­lim ac­tivist, said at the rally.

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