Courts & Corrections

Council candidate accuses state’s attorney of bias in his firing

Abdullah Sall
Abdullah Sall, a candidate for City Council, says he plans to sue the Chittenden County state’s attorney’s office for discrimination. Courtesy photo
BURLINGTON — A candidate for City Council says his firing by newly appointed Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George was discriminatory and that he plans to sue.

Abdullah Sall, who is running as an independent in the South District, was hired by George’s predecessor, TJ Donovan, as an administrative assistant in June. Donovan is now the attorney general.

George fired Sall on Jan. 26, one week after her appointment, according to his attorney John Franco. Sall had completed his six-month probationary period in December. Franco said Sall was given no warning that his job performance was unsatisfactory before being fired.

Sall said during an interview Tuesday that he was called into a meeting where George told him he was making too many mistakes and people had trouble understanding his accent.

“She told me, ‘You make mistakes and people don’t understand what you say.’ I said, ‘OK, but in terms of making mistakes, you’ve had people here for 15 years who make some mistake, and they don’t have any problem,’” Sall said.

George said in an email Tuesday that she’s legally prohibited from commenting on the specifics of Sall’s termination because it’s a personnel matter.

Sarah George
Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George takes the oath of office. File photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger
“I will say that, as an employer – any time a decision is made regarding termination of an employee, that decision is, and will always be, guided by job performance, the needs of the office, and the law. I followed those principles when making my decision,” George wrote.

Franco invoked one standard for what constitutes workplace discrimination. “It’s disparate treatment,” Franco said of Sall’s firing.

“Are there any other Liberian, African-American, Muslim men in the office? No. Was he treated differently than everyone else? Yes,” Franco said.

Sall said he felt that some people in the office were uncomfortable having a black Muslim man sitting at the front desk, “but once they got to know me, they see I’m as normal as everybody else.” Others, he said, never warmed to his presence.

Donovan said he didn’t want to comment on specifics relating to the situation because if such a case were to go to trial, it’s likely he could be called as a witness.

“Sarah George and Abdullah Sall are both good people. They’re friends of mine, and I hope they work this out,” Donovan said.

Before Sall can sue, he will first have to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is operated locally through the office of the attorney general, Donovan.

Sall said he’s been working with his attorney to get his job back and feels shame and humiliation that he was fired. He said if he were reinstated he would have resigned after a few weeks, so he could leave the office on his own terms.

“The last thing I heard this morning was they wanted to pay me a severance, and I said, ‘I don’t want a penny from you. I want my dignity back,’” Sall said.


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Morgan True

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  • Neil Johnson

    I had an employee, couldn’t show up on Monday to work. Gave the employee written notice that they were required to come to work, had to give proper notice (which was in the employee manual) if they weren’t coming to work. Employee continued with poor performance and no notice, so employee was fired. The employee brought me to the Supreme Court of Vermont for wrongful termination. If you are an employer or an landlord you have to be careful, the deck is stacked against you in Vermont.

    You have Washington University claiming it’s discriminatory to demand proper grammar in School. I’ve seen some college papers and they are scary. There are requirements when you are hired for a job, it’s not getting a gold star and pay check just for coming to work.

  • J Scott Cameron

    The article in Digger stated:

    “Before Sall can sue, he will first have to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is operated locally through the office of the attorney general, Donovan.”

    That statement is not entirely accurate. Sall can sue immediately, in state court, under Vermont’s Fair Employment Practices Act without first filing a complaint with the EEOC. He is only required to file a charge with the EEOC if he wants to file suit, most likely in federal court, under federal anti-discrimination laws.

    • Pat McGarry

      What the above article is referring to is “dual filing” with a state agency and the EEOC. See https://www.eeoc.gov/employees/fepa.cfm

      Although the Civil Rights Division of the VT AG’s office is usually the state agency which handles such complaints, when the defendant is the State of Vermont, the Vermont Human Rights Commission handles the state employment claim, and the VT AG defends.

      • J Scott Cameron

        Pat – I fully understand this. What I stated – in contrast to the statement in Digger – is that there is no requirement to file a charge or request an investigation at either the State or federal level prior to filing suit re: employment discrimination under Vermont’s Fair Employment Practices Act. One can do so, but it is not required. One must, of course, file an administrative charge first and get a Right To Sue letter before pursuing a lawsuit under federal laws pertaining to discrimination in employment.

        • Pat McGarry

          J Scott- no quarrel with your information. I was replying to the quote you cited (made by the author of the article) that Donovan’s office would handle the filing on behalf of the EEOC.