By Charles Sercombe
Hamtramck’s city hall has become a toxic workplace, according to insiders.
But the issue of who’s to blame has fingers pointing in a couple of different directions.
So far, just one official complaint has been filed, but several sources have said there might be more to follow.
The person who filed the complaint is the head of the Human Resources Department, Mashana Burton.
In her complaint, a copy of which The Review received following a Freedom of Information Act request, it is alleged that Deputy City Manager Maali Luqman has created a “hostile work environment on the third floor” of city hall.
On the city hall’s third floor, the district court is located in one half, with some city administrators’ offices are in the other half.
Asked for comment, Luqman referred The Review to her attorney, Amy Doukoure, who is a staff attorney for the organization CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations).
Her attorney said that Luqman has a cross-complaint against Burton, saying it’s Burton who’s created a hostile work environment.
“It’s very clear that it’s Ms. Burton who is the source of hostility,” said Doukoure.
Doukoure added that Luqman had informed City Manager Max Garbarino of the situation, but “he swept it under the rug.”
Burton’s complaint, which was sent to Garbarino, says that her relationship with Luqman for the last six months has “deteriorated.”
“Now the work environment has become toxic and hostile,” Burton said.
Burton went on to further say:
“I do not feel I should be harassed or work under extreme tension because Maali has an unfounded issue with me. I have never had a verbal confrontation with her so I’m not sure what her issues are with me. I know have remained professional despite the pettiness from Maali.”
Burton cited three issues she had with Luqman:
Burton had scheduled with City Manager Garbarino to use a conference room but on the date it was to be used, Burton said Luqman told her that she would first have to check with Garbarino because she was not informed of the matter.
In another instance, Burton said that Luqman keeps copy paper “under lock and key.” Burton said that “caused” her to go to the city clerk’s office to get paper “to avoid a potential hostile conversation.”
In the third matter, Burton said that Luqman would not buzz open the door to the administration wing on the third floor “when she sees us outside the door searching for our keys.”
Luqman’s attorney, Doukoure, responded, via email, to each allegation.
In the conference room matter: “Ms. Luqman telling Ms. Burton that she had to check to make sure there was no conflict in the scheduling for the conference room which fell squarely within the designated jobs assigned to Ms. Luqman by Mr. Garbarino.”
Regarding access to copy paper, Doukoure said that Burton has access to the key to where the paper is stored, and that Burton can also order her own paper.
As for the door leading to the administration wing, Doukoure said Luqman is not the door monitor and was busy with other matters.
Doukoure said that Luqman complained last September-October about Burton’s “insubordination and outright hostility. … It wasn’t until several months later, in April 2023, when the issues with Ms. Burton continued and escalated to infect other employees of Hamtramck, and Mr. Garbarino had not taken any action to remediate the issues, that Ms. Luqman complained to city council about the toxic work environment created by Ms. Burton.
“It was after Ms. Luqman had complained to city council, and Mr. Garbarino was notified about her complaints, that Ms. Burton’s complaint was filed and Ms. Luqman was brought in for interview about only Ms. Burton’s complaints.”
Asked for comment on the matter, Garbarino said:
“Hamtramck is an equal opportunity employer. The city does not discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, or any other legally protected classification.
“All allegations of discrimination or harassment are promptly and fairly investigated as we remain committed to providing a harassment and discrimination free workplace for all employees. It is the city’s policy, however, not to comment on personnel matters.”
Garbarino said there are no other complaints filed against Luqman.
However, Doukoure said there was a complaint about Burton by an applicant for a job in the administration.
Doukoure provided the email complaint from Christopher Ewald, who sent it to City Treasurer Charles Bonza, saying that he turned down a job offer because:
“The HR Department is unprofessional and doesn’t understand the needs of the city.
“When the HR department is argumentative and disrespectful toward the executive team during an interview along with leaving the interview for a personal telephone conversation, that doesn’t appeal to potential new employees.”
Bonza, in turn, forwarded that email to Garbarino and Luqman. Bonza told the two in a note in the forwarded email:
“This is disturbing. I hope the water hasn’t been tainted.”
Luqman was hired by the city council last August for the newly-created position of deputy city manager.
Luqman was hired despite not having any city administration experience, or even training, which was one of the qualifications of the job description posted by the city.
She has a master’s degree in international relations from Harvard University, and a bachelor’s degree in education from University of Michigan.
Luqman’s prior experience was in education.
Doukoure said that she is not sure that Luqman will return to her position.
Posted May 19, 2023