Published: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 12:00 a.m.
Worker's fate still uncertain at city job Worker's fate at city office still uncertain
By TIM LOCKETTE Sun staff writer The affirmative action officer for the city of Gainesville remains on unpaid suspension today - but Steven Malu says it's only a matter of time before a "conspiracy" in city government costs him his job.
"I have not been terminated, but they have already said that I have been fired," said Malu, one of four employees of the city's equal opportunity office. "There is a conspiracy here, and they already know what is going to happen to me."
Malu, who is responsible for recruiting minority and female applicants for city jobs, was placed on suspension Friday morning - and was told he would face a termination hearing Wednesday.
In a notice he sent to Malu on Friday, city equal opportunity Director Jimmie Williams cited "several instances of improper conduct, poor performance and insubordination" as reasons for Malu's suspension.
Malu says Williams is prejudiced against him because of his national origin: Malu was born in Nigeria. Both Malu and Williams are black.
Malu's fate was supposed to be decided in a meeting with Williams and City Manager Wayne Bowers on Wednesday afternoon.
Malu showed up with an entourage of supporters and family members. But after a 10-minute meeting with Malu behind closed doors, city officials said they had yet to decide whether Malu should be fired.
Williams was unavailable for comment after the meeting. Bowers said he would wait for the equal opportunity director's decision, then consider any grievances filed by Malu - a process that could take two weeks or longer.
Malu filed a complaint to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accusing Williams and other city employees of a pattern of harassment, saying that city employees had hatched "a conspiracy to fire" Malu, and claiming that a number of written reprimands against Malu were actually inspired by city officials' bias against Malu because of his national origin.
Memos from Williams tell a different story. In a memo sent to Malu on Friday, Williams says Malu failed perform an "exit interview" with some workers who were leaving the city's employ.
The memo also says Malu was "extremely insubordinate" when he tried to get access to a city database of job applicants - after Malu had applied for the city's economic development director position.
According to the memo, Malu was denied access to the database as soon as he applied for the position - because that access would give him "unrestricted access to other applicants' records."
But Malu tried to get around that restriction, the memo says, by going directly to the company that maintained the database and asking for access.
On the afternoon of July 16, Malu e-mailed a message to the software company: "I cannot logon what's up?"
A worker at the software company forwarded the message to other workers at the city, asking whether Malu should be granted access to the database.
Early the next morning, Williams e-mailed Malu: "You know exactly why you can't log on. I need an explanation."
Malu said Williams had given him assignments that required him to use the database - knowing that Malu was already banned from the database, and unable to complete the assignments. And that, he says, is a form of harassment.
"He was creating work for me that he knew I could not do," he said.
Malu also said that city officials had already made up their minds to fire him early last week - days before his termination hearing was scheduled to take place.
Williams told Malu he was suspended some time between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. Friday, according to city officials.
Around 12:30 p.m., Malu called police to report that someone had scrawled a racially motivated statement - "Nigerian (racial slur) go home" - above a urinal in the second floor men's bathroom in City Hall.
A police report cites Assistant City Manager Carl Harness as saying that Malu had been "terminated at approximately 0930 hrs this date."
Malu says the statement is a sign that city officials already considered him gone, even though city rules entitle him to a final termination hearing.
City Manager Wayne Bowers said the statement was probably a slip of the tongue.
"He should have said 'suspended pending termination,' " Bowers said.
Bowers said Malu has worked under three different supervisors since he first took a job with the city in 1999 and has filed a grievance against each of those supervisors.
Tim Lockette can be reached at 374-5088 or lockett@gvillesun. com.
SUSPENSION on Page 4B Continued from 1B SUSPENSION: Memos offer details in case

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