Whistleblower suit heating up as hearing looms

By J. PATRICK PEPPER
Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS — Action intensified last week in the whistleblower and discrimination lawsuit filed by a former department head against the city and Mayor Daniel Paletko.

Attorneys for the city on Wednesday filed a motion for summary judgment in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan seeking to have Judge Bernard Friedman toss out the three-count complaint for lack of sufficient evidence.

Attorneys representing the plaintiff, former Community and Economic Development Director Hassane Jamal, responded Thursday by filing their own motion for summary judgment requesting the court rule in favor on one of the counts, a Michigan Whistleblower’s Protection Act claim. They also requested an extension to respond to the city’s motion for summary judgment.

The response would be due by June 30, but a hearing scheduled for that day on the separate matter of whether new elements can be added to Jamal’s complaint could change what that response might say, the motion said.

The suit, filed in October, alleges that Jamal was fired for refusing to comply with what his complaint argues were illegal acts.

Central to the allegations are that Paletko urged Jamal to improperly apply federal funds for an emergency boiler repair at the Berwyn Senior Center. It also contends that Jamal was fired in part because he objected to Paletko hiring someone without properly advertising the federally funded position, something Jamal says precluded a minority candidate from getting the job.

Paletko has denied telling Jamal to break any laws in the Berwyn Center incident, and contends the hire he made was within legal bounds. He says instead that Jamal was fired for a number of performance-related issues, including insubordination and inability to work with others.

Jamal is seeking damages in excess of $75,000 and is represented by attorney Frank Rivers of the Royal Oak firm Stefani & Stefani. Father-son team Ronald and James Acho of Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho represent the city.

In addition to the Michigan whistleblower complaint, Jamal also is seeking damages on racial and religious discrimination grounds – because Jamal’s interim replacement was a white woman, mayoral assistant Krystina Kramarz – and on federal whistleblower protection statutes.

What will be decided at the June 30 hearing is whether or not the court will compel the city to turn over documents related to a different employee’s complaint against Paletko, and if the information contained is admissible in the case.

The complaint was filed by former mayor’s assistant Tina Foley and was requested outside of court by Jamal’s attorney.

According to the motion, “Ms. Foley’s claim apparently involved an allegation that the mayor had engaged in misconduct by uploading pornographic or sexually explicit material onto his City Hall office computer.” It does not say in the motion whether Foley’s claim ever was validated.

City Attorney Gary Miotke denied the request under attorney-client privilege, blasting it as “unduly burdensome” and only intended to “embarrass or harass” Paletko.

Rivers argues the claim could be relevant because of information Jamal has received since initially filing his suit that may link Foley’s complaint to his firing.

The motion says that Jamal believes Paletko may have fired him at least in part because Jamal refused to fire a subordinate that Paletko wanted gone. According to court filings, Paletko said the employee, Brad Nietubicz, had failed to call back residents about the city’s sidewalk program.

Because of the new information, Jamal denies that was the case and now contends Palekto only wanted Nietubicz fired because Paletko thought Nietubicz aided Foley in filing her complaint.

The motion does not detail how or where Jamal received the information, and James Acho said in court filings for the city that there is no evidence to support Jamal’s new theory.