Former employee says Linda Sarsour mishandled her sexual abuse complaints

As more women come forward during the #MeToo movement with stories of sexual harassment, assault, and the ways in which their experiences were initially ignored or silenced, a former employee of Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour has gone to the far-right with her complaints.

According to the Daily Caller, Asmi Fathelbab says Sarsour ignored sexual harassment complaints that an office volunteer rubbed his crotch against her while working at the Arab American Association of New York, a nonprofit at which Sarsour was executive director in 2009. Fathelbab worked at the nonprofit as a member of an AmeriCorps program that specifically assisted Arab-American organizations.

Fathelbab’s story, published Sunday night, details consistently ignored complaints of sexual harassment and assault made by Fathelbab against an office volunteer, Majed Seif, who she said stalked her and sexually assaulted her by touching and rubbing his crotch on her when they were alone.

Fathelbab said when she brought these complaints to Sarsour, the Women’s March organizer body-shamed and intimidated her into silence, and told her that assault “didn’t happen to women who looked like me.” Fathelbab said Sarsour threatened to ruin her career and pursue her legally if she went public with her story. Fathelbab said she was written up for disciplinary action and that once her contract at the nonprofit was up, Sarsour continued to have her fired by other employers for the next nine years.

“She oversaw an environment unsafe and abusive to women,” Fathelbab told the Daily Caller. “Women who put [Sarsour] on a pedestal for women’s rights and empowerment deserve to know how she really treats us.”

The Daily Caller piece, written by Benny Johnson, corroborated the allegations with two anonymous sources, who said Fathelbab would return from work emotionally distressed, and one other anonymous “New York political operative” who worked with the Arab American Association for more than 12 years and said they witnessed Fathelbab get harassed.

The report spread quickly and was shared through conservative and right-wing Twitter accounts before being tweeted and retweeted by Donald Trump Jr. The story has continued to spread through social media in the days following.

https://twitter.com/Cernovich/status/942578740168507392

However, the day following the Daily Caller’s report, BuzzFeed News published its own investigation into Sarsour’s alleged mishandling.

According to Sarsour, who was interviewed by BuzzFeed News, the allegations brought forth by Fathelbab are incorrect. While Sarsour acknowledged that Fathelbab was a staff member at the nonprofit and her alleged harasser, Seif, was a volunteer, she said she had looked into the staffer’s claims at the time and found “no substantial evidence or any testimonies from anyone about the alleged accusations.” Sarsour also denied body-shaming Fathelbab and said she told Seif to stay away from her after concluding her investigation. Seif denied Fathelbab’s claims at the time and denied them to BuzzFeed News as well.

Sarsour said she’s “dumbfounded” by Fathelbab’s version of events, alleging that the staffer was the one creating a “hostile environment” by falsely accusing Seif to other employees. She also said Fathelbab’s accusations differ from the claims she’s brought forth to the Daily Caller.

“The exact words were, ‘He makes me feel uncomfortable,'” Sarsour told BuzzFeed News. “There was nothing about touching or groping. There’s no evidence, no email she can pull out where she ever gave those claims to us.”

BuzzFeed News also reported on documents from 2009 provided by Sarsour herself that challenge Fathelbab’s claims. These documents included a statement by Seif, the volunteer she accused of harassment, to the organization that funded the AmeriCorps program saying he’d never been around Fathelbab without other employees present, as well as statements signed by two staff members who worked with Fathelbab saying that they had no reason to believe her claims.

One of the employees who signed a statement, Jihad Kifayeh, told BuzzFeed News he considered Fathelbab to be a good friend in the office and said he monitored Seif’s behavior after the alleged harassment. Kifayeh said he and other coworkers continued to look for evidence of Seif’s misconduct, but said he found nothing, and thought some of her allegations sounded “logistically impossible” in the close quarters shared by staffers at the nonprofit. He also said Fathelbab hadn’t previously made allegations of sexual assault.

BuzzFeed News also called into question the history of the reporter behind the Daily Caller investigation. In 2014, BuzzFeed News fired Johnson, a former writer, after finding more than 40 instances of plagiarism and insufficient attribution. He was then suspended indefinitely this year from the conservative Independent Journal Review for publishing a conspiracy theory about a judge appointed by President Barack Obama.

“Anti-Semitic, terrorist sympathizer, supporter of female genital mutilation—every week they come up with some new stuff about me,” Sarsour told BuzzFeed News about stories attempting to mar her character. “But when the president’s son is tweeting about me, that’s serious stuff.”

H/T the New York Post

Samantha Grasso

Samantha Grasso

Samantha Grasso is a former IRL staff writer for the Daily Dot with a reporting emphasis on immigration. Her work has appeared on Los Angeles Magazine, Death And Taxes, Revelist, Texts From Last Night, Austin Monthly, and she has previously contributed to Texas Monthly.