A New York area nonprofit company is being sued by its former chief financial officer for being terminated after he made several whistleblower complaints against the company and its board members. He also claims the company refused to accommodate his disabilities including epilepsy and depression.
Tarek Abdelaziz was hired by Westchester Community Opportunity Program, Inc. (WestCOP) as its chief financial officer in November 2012, according to the complaint. He claims he was a stellar employee who never received any complaints about his job performance. He also claims that he was responsible for audits and projects that saved WestCOP substantial amounts of money.
WestCOP received most of its funding from the federal and New York state governments for its Head Start program, which operated community programs aimed at combating poverty and its adverse effects in low-income and at-risk communities, according to the complaint.
Beginning in September 2016 and continuing until his termination, Abdelaziz made several complaints about WestCOP’s misuse of government funds, availing himself of the company’s whistleblower policy. These complaints included, but was not limited to, an employee who was compensated for 40-hour weeks who only worked 25-35 hours per week; an employee who used a company car for personal use, including on weekends, vacations and holidays, and the company paid for her gas and repairs; an employee who received full salary and benefits, despite only working an hour a day who then spent the rest of his time on an exotic snake business; and the company using $43,000 in Head Start money for one of WestCOP’s other programs – one devoted to providing weatherization assistance.
None of the complaints were taken seriously by WestCOP, according to the complaint. There was no follow-up despite Abdelaziz emphasizing the whistleblower nature and importance of each of them. Instead, following his final complaint he was terminated because he “abused whistleblower policy.”
In addition, Abdelaziz claims the company discriminated against him by failing to provide him with medical leave and retaliated against him by denying his request for reasonable accommodation. His request for accommodation was accompanied by a certification from his health care provider that he was on strong medications to address his epileptic seizures and severe clinical depression. It stated that, although he could work full-time, he should be allowed an extra hour after lunch for his medication to wear off so that he can drive and perform basic duties. The request was denied and he was fired less than a month later.
The case was brought in the Southern District of New York by Wigdor LLP.
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