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.
“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.