The city council approved $400,000 on Tuesday evening to settle an alleged discrimination and political retaliation lawsuit filed by a secretary as a result of an alleged ”campaign of harassment” perpetuated by former community development director Lanisha Makle, according to the federal court complaint filed by the secretary.
Montaha Deeb filed the lawsuit in 2012. Her complaint states the alleged campaign began soon after Makle was appointed as director of the department by former mayor Jeffery Jones.
Deeb’s performance which was “rated very highly” changed after Makle became director. She was further retaliated against for her friendship with councilman Kenneth Morris, an adversary of the former mayor.
Makle on September 23rd, 2010 also dialed the police on Deeb to get her arrested, according to Deeb’s complaint. Makle allegedly claimed Deeb “created a scene” at the office. The lawsuit states Deeb could not have made a scene because she had clocked out for the day for a doctor’s appointment.
“After that incident, Mackle [sic] stepped up the harassment,” alleges the complaint by Deeb. The former director allegedly issued a memorandum demanding she perform two full time jobs at the same salary.
Makle then reduced Deeb’s salary by $5,000 by subtracting some job responsibilities. After taking away her title and pay, Makle hired a consultant Joyce Hunt to replace Deeb.
The lawsuit alleges Makle discriminated against Deeb, at the time the only Arab Muslim city employee. Makle, Hunt, and Jones are all African-American. Makle “issued many write ups” against Deeb and demanded her to continue doing duties that she had taken away to force a salary cut.
Deeb states in the lawsuit she also had to do Hunt’s job. Hunt’s deficiencies have been pointed out by council members over the previous years.
“Hunt was not trained in the job and had no background to perform it,” alleges Deeb’s complaint, Makle required Deeb to “do the job for her.”
Makle also allegedly “arbitrarily” changed Deeb’s office hours on March 15th, 2011. Deeb, who is a single mother, was adversely impacted by schedule change. The former director also allegedly barred Deeb from going to the 4th floor of the building where the coffee and the fridge are located.
“Her directive effectively controlled whether or not the plaintiff [Deeb] was permitted to have a cup of coffee during her break,” states the complaint.
Makle also issued disciplinary notices for “yelling.” The lawsuit states Deeb informed Makle that she suffers from a hearing impairment which causes her to speak in a loud manner.
Deeb brought the “hostile environment” to the attention of the business administrator and other high ranking officials, but little was done to address the situation, according to the complaint. She also filed a grievance on March 31st, 2011.
“A grievance hearing has never been scheduled by the City,” reads the complaint. Deeb’s attorney wrote to the city’s attorney about the “continued harassment,” which resulted in further retaliation, reads the complaint.
Deeb was allegedly denied a vacation request. Makle allegedly told her there were staffing issues at the department. “Review of the records showed that no one else in the department was scheduled to take a vacation,” reads the complaint.
Deeb was laid off from her job on May 16th, 2011. She was replaced by someone hired after her and did not have experience as a Program Monitor, Deeb’s civil service title. Deeb “was never given prior notice of her layoff and was not given a list of employees to determine whether or not she had bumping rights.”
Deeb’s attorney protested to the city. She was then moved to the sewer division as a provisional employee. Employees from Makle’s department “fabricated reasons” to visit Deeb to allegedly “ostracize” her. Her lawsuit states the city never provided a job description for her post at the sewer division.
Deeb filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on April 14th, 2011. A right to sue letter was provided to her on January 24, 2012.
Council members hesitantly approved the settlement in a special meeting last night. Council president William McKoy said the council is often confronted with settlements at the “tail end.”
Morris said the lawsuit could have been avoided had the city taken steps to rectify the situation early on.
“The council often finds itself backed up in a corner because we learn about these cases at the point in which there’s nothing to do but settle because the potential exposure is ten times as much,” said Morris.
The city will pay Deeb in two $200,000 installments. The first installment will be paid out on July 1st, 2016 and the second on July 1st, 2017, according to the settlement resolution.
Deeb has been working for the city since May 2001, according to city records.