Lawsuit claims Oakland Mall profiled, discriminated against shoppers
A former security worker is suing Oakland Mall managers and a security firm, claiming he was fired for refusing to enforce discriminatory policies, including racially profiling customers.
David Niewolak, who was hired as the lead dispatcher with Prudential Security at the Troy property in 2015, alleges he had no negative write-ups before the termination in June, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Detroit.
He claims his former employer required him “to engage in unethical, immoral and illegal acts” that involved targeting minorities. This included following or approaching African-American males in groups of three or more, as well as asking black men “that looked suspicious to produce identification upon entry to the mall and answer questions about what stores they intended on going to,” the filing stated.
Niewolak also alleges that white managers called the baton and flashlights that security guards carried “(n-word) beating sticks,” black women were not allowed to breastfeed and Arab men faced extra scrutiny. Meanwhile, his complaint claims “mall management also had a policy which required the prompt removal of persons with disabilities from the food court” since they were considered “offensive” to other visitors.
Additionally, Niewolak said he was ordered to remove a gay couple “simply sitting by the Mall fountain and holding hands,” though they were not violating any rules. Managers reportedly referred to the men with a slur and told the staffer he had to get them “out of here,” the document read.
Niewolak claims he objected to the directives and said the environment affected his health. Returning to work after heart bypass surgery recovery, he “was ridiculed, belittled, teased and subjected to retaliatory treatment stemming from his disability and leave of absence. … The mall management told Plaintiff it would have been better if he died at the hospital than return to work. They also refused to allow him to take his post-operative medications at work, as well as insulin injections (which Plaintiff had to go into the mall garage to take).”
Rebuffing calls to continue the discriminatory policies, the Macomb County resident was fired “without any legitimate business reasons” on June 6 and filed a discrimination charge through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission less than two months later, his lawsuit said.
Robert McGrath, a spokesman for CBRE, which manages the mall, declined to comment Monday, saying the firm had not yet seen the lawsuit.
Prudential security officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night.
Niewolak’s lawyers believe his firing was related to him opposing violations of laws including the state Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights, Equal Public Accommodations and Ethnic Intimidation acts.
“During his employment with Defendants, Plaintiff was regularly requested to engage in, conspire, direct, or allow harassing and discriminatory conduct against mall customers/shoppers, because of their race, ethnicity, sexual preference and/or disabilities,” they said.
The suit requests a judgment of $10 million in compensatory damages "or whatever different amount Plaintiff is found to be entitled, including but not limited to past, present and future pain and suffering, physical, mental and emotional distress." It also seeks an injunction prohibiting further acts of retaliation or discrimination.
"Such conduct as alleged in the complaint is deplorable, immoral, unethical and illegal and must be stopped immediately," said Thomas Warnicke, the lead attorney in the case. "The purpose of bringing the lawsuit certainly transcends any monetary claims. It’s more about treating everybody equally in social and public settings."