Allentown's ex-HR chief blasts mayor's latest firing, urges council to act now
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — A former Allentown human resources director who lasted less than two months in the job is accusing the city’s mayor of forcing him to resign for not firing another employee — whom the mayor fired last week.
Nadeem Shahzad levied that allegation in a letter he sent to Allentown City Council after learning Mayor Matt Tuerk fired Karen Ocasio, one of Shahzad’s former employees.
“I find it deeply troubling that my own service as the director of human resources was terminated when I refused to comply with the mayor's demands to terminate (Karen) Ocasio."Nadeem Shahzad, former Allentown HR director
Ocasio, who filed complaints against the city with Pennsylvania’s equal-employment opportunity and human relations commissions, was notified Nov. 20 that her employment would end the same day.
“It has come to my attention that Mayor Tuerk terminated the employment of Karen Ocasio without cause, solely based on his belief that she was a troublemaker,” Shahzad said in his letter to council.
“I find it deeply troubling that my own service as the director of human resources was terminated when I refused to comply with the mayor's demands to terminate Ms. Ocasio,” he said.
He said Tuerk gave him two options: resign or be fired; Shahzad told LehighValleyNews.com Monday that he resigned “under protest.”
He plans to pursue state and federal litigation against the city for terminating him without valid cause.
Ocasio’s firing by Tuerk “raises significant concerns about the principles of justice, fairness and equality within our city,” Shahzad wrote to council.
Ocasio was one of “countless employees” in Allentown city government who accused “Tuerk and his management team” of discrimination, retaliation, intimidation and unjust terminations, according to Shahzad.
“I strongly believe that Mayor Matt Turek's actions exhibit a pattern of blatant discrimination against Black employees within the city government,” he said.
Allentown communications manager Genesis Ortega did not respond Monday to LehighValleyNews.com.
Shahzad said “the whole department was a mess” when he was hired in late June on a $128,000 salary.
Shahzad lasted less than two months in the role; he said Aug. 18 that he was illegally fired by Tuerk.
The next day, Ortega said Shahzad resigned and was not terminated.
Shahzad said he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about his abrupt departure from city government.
A no-confidence vote against Tuerk "will send a clear message that discrimination and unfair treatment will not be tolerated within our city government,” Shahzad said in his letter to council.Nadeem Shahzad, former Allentown HR director
Shahzad believes he and Ocasio “have a very strong case against the city.”
“Karen was an excellent employee,” he said Monday. “There was no reason to terminate her, but he just hated her because he felt she was a troublemaker.
“When you’re a good employee and you stand up for your rights, I think there’s nothing wrong with that,” Shahzad said.
‘Send a clear message’
Shahzad urged council members to “take immediate action” on a no-confidence vote against Tuerk, as Councilman Ed Zucal has proposed. That vote could come as soon as Dec. 6.
“This step will send a clear message that discrimination and unfair treatment will not be tolerated within our city government,” Shahzad said in his letter to council.
Zucal last week labeled Tuerk’s firing of Ocasio “an act of revenge” and accused the mayor of “blatant retaliation and retribution” against an employee who spoke out.
He said he is exploring whether to push for a vote of no confidence “to signal the complete lack of faith that council now has in this mayor.”
But Tuerk said he has “a duty to ensure a good working environment for all employees so that we may continue to provide high quality city services to our residents and stakeholders.
“I don’t participate in retaliatory practices and I don’t have tolerance for it either,” Tuerk said.
The mayor declined further comment last week about Ocasio’s firing.
Ocasio repeatedly spoke at Allentown City Council meetings after the Allentown NAACP released a letter in July detailing allegations of discrimination and racism within City Hall.
Council in October approved an investigation into those allegations. Zucal is working with council members Ce-Ce Gerlach and Daryl Hendricks and the city’s Purchasing Bureau to hire an investigative agency.