DEARBORN HEIGHTS – A former Dearborn Heights police officer has filed a lawsuit against the city citing religious discrimination as the reason he was fired in 2019.
Mahdi Bazzi had been an officer for less than a year at the time of his dismissal.
In the suit, Bazzi alleges he told a senior officer about discrimination he was facing and was told to document it, but not to tell anyone he was doing so or he may face repercussions.
Bazzi, an Arab American Muslim, said that he grew a beard because he believes it is a “requirement by his religion.” He notified the department of that and he stated that this was the main reason he faced the discrimination, according to his lawsuit.
Some of the specific in Bazzi complaints include:
– He was told he looked like a “soup sandwich.” And that he should shave his beard or not show up to work.
– That his supervisor gave him a low-performance rating because of his appearance, and on one occasion, when a sergeant inquired about his beard, another officer mockingly proclaimed “Allah permitted him” to grow a beard.
– Another officer mocked Bazzi for maintaining his beard for religious reasons. He was asked if he forgot to shave. On several occasions, other officers left shaving razors and coupons for shaving products in Bazzi’s locker.
– He was walking into the roll call room after his shift and an officer stated, “Here comes the dollar shave club.” Another officer asked him if he was getting razors for Christmas.
– An officer made racially derogatory remarks towards Bazzi and other Arab American Muslims.
– After a traffic stop involving an Arab American female driver, an officer told Bazzi that his people can’t drive and are liars, especially the girls. The same officer told him that his people are scammers with these fraudulent dealer plates.
According to the lawsuit, Bazzi lost his notebook with all of the documentation around February 2019. It was found by a sergeant who questioned what it was, and who told him to write down all of the things in it. Several officers and supervisors are named in the lawsuit.
The sergeant and a captain both questioned him about the contents of the notebook, according to the lawsuit.
On April 3, 2019, Bazzi filed a hostile workplace complaint. He followed up with an email April 7 to confirm the complaint.
The email read in part: “I spoke to you regarding the Hostile Work Environment I was experiencing. … Please be advised that I am requesting a formal investigation on all personnel. I am also requesting formal investigation in regards to the Dearborn Heights Police Department locker room incidents. I believe that I have been subjected to a hostile work environment based upon my race as an Arab American. I further believe that I have also been subjected to discriminatory and retaliatory conduct based upon my race and for my complaints regarding the same.”
The lawsuit called the investigation into those complaints a “sham” because the conclusion was that the harassment happened, but was not racially or religiously motivated.
Bazzi was fired after he refused repeatedly to reveal the name of the officer who told him to document the alleged harassment.
On Tuesday, February 28, the Dearborn Heights Police Department received a copy of a notice of Bazzi’s wrongful termination lawsuit against the department.
In response to the lawsuit the city of Dearborn Heights issued a statement that says that “as the lawsuit is currently in process, and it has been forwarded to the city’s legal counsel for consideration and action, no specific comments pertaining to it will be released at this time.”
The statement indicated that current city administration and Police Department Command are “opposed to this suit, as the alleged infractions took place prior to their becoming involved in their current positions.”
“As soon as I became mayor in 2021, one of my first and biggest priorities was to design and implement a plan of change on a city-wide basis that would ensure a fair and equitable open door policy for employees, including a zero-tolerance policy toward discrimination, bullying and other unwanted behavior,” Mayor Bill Bazzi stated in a press release. “Under my new administration and the leadership team that is now in place, I am proud to say we have made and continue to make great strides in creating an environment of inclusion and proper conduct for our employees of all races, cultures and religious beliefs.”
Chief Jerrod S. Hart, who recently celebrated his one-year anniversary with the Dearborn Heights Police Department, developed six pillars of focus during an on-site visit from subject matter experts with the Department of Justice/Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), Collaborative Reform Initiative – Technical Assistance Center (CRI-TAC) in September 2021. The pillars: Leadership Development, Peer to Peer, Fair & Impartial Policing, Selection, Recruiting & Retention, Community Engagement and Policy Review build upon each other toward the development of a world-class, community-focused police department.
In January, Mayor Bazzi and Chief Hart welcomed two directors to the police department, Paul D. Vanderplow and Kevin Swope, to assist in the transformation of the department.
Mayor Bazzi said he is confident in the direction the department is taking as a result of these new initiatives.
“Our department is heading in an entirely new direction and is operating with more efficiency and with even more positive feedback from the community,” he said. “Chief Hart and I are grateful to our officers who serve this community so honorably and with such integrity.”
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