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Pakistani Muslim owner of hotel alleges bias by Sterling Heights

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The owner of a Sterling Heights hotel who is Muslim and of Pakistani descent alleges in a lawsuit filed Monday that city officials targeted and drove him out of business because of his faith and ethnicity and because he had housed about 200 Syrian refugees.

But on the same day, a Macomb County judge ruled against the hotel in a separate lawsuit that had been filed by city against the hotel, agreeing with the city that the hotel had failed to meet safety regulations.

Asad Malik, the owner of Wyndham Garden on 15 Mile and Van Dyke and president of the Pakistani Association of America, says in a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Detroit that after he started housing Syrian refugees in 2016, the city started to slap him with citations for violations of fire codes that he said other hotels with similar problems were not receiving. The hotel closed in September. 

Malik purchased the hotel in 2014. He is an active member of the Muslim community in metro Detroit as a leader with the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit in Rochester Hills and meets with elected officials who have visited the mosque over the years. 

The hotel was “opening her arms to refugees escaping from their war torn country,” his attorney Shereef Akeel, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Sterling Hotels, told the Free Press. “The last thing you would think is then one of our own cites shutting the door on them. And now, my client has had to pay dearly for their act of generosity.”

The hotel started taking in Syrian refugees in November 2016, working with Samaritas, formerly known as Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, which helps resettle refugees.

Malik said he then received an email from the Sterling Heights city manager asking him: “Are there any Syrian refugees being housed at the Wyndham? A resident is alleging such at our council meeting.”

The owner of Wyndham Garden hotel in Sterling Heights near 15 Mile and Van Dyke has filed a lawsuit alleging anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistani bias. (Photo: Shereef Akeel)

The targeted harassment started after that, with the fire marshal being directed by the city to single out the hotel for code violations such as outdated fire alarm systems, the lawsuit alleges. Other hotels owned by people who were not Muslim were not targeted in such a manner, Akeel said.

But the city of Sterling Heights strongly denies the allegations, saying the problem lies with the hotel refusing to adhere to fire codes and city regulations to ensure safety.

The city had filed a lawsuit against the hotel in 2018, alleging it had violated fire regulations that was jeopardizing safety. The city said the hotel had “high risk violations” throughout 2017. 

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In June 2018, the judge issued a preliminary injunction banning overnight guests at the hotel. The hotel entered into a consent order to fix some of the hotel’s safety violations.

On Monday, Macomb County Circuit Court Judge James Maceroni ruled against the hotel, saying its “deficiencies have still not been remedied.”

The hotel “had ample opportunity … to cure the” problems, but failed to do so, Judge Maceroni wrote in his ruling. 

The hotel continued to host some events over the past year, including a Trump campaign “Keep America Great” rally in December 2019 with Lara Trump. 

In a statement to the Free Press from Sterling Heights spokeswoman Melanie Davis, the city said the judge’s ruling “validated the city’s actions in this matter as being centered on public safety in light of serious and prolonged life safety violations on the part of Sterling Hotels.”

The judge’s decision “underscores how the city provided Sterling Hotels multiple opportunities to comply with the prior terms of the consent order agreed to by Sterling Hotels, but that it repeatedly failed to comply with the terms of that order,” said the statement from Sterling Heights. 

The city said that “in the interest of public safety and the need to protect Sterling Hotels, LLC employees and patrons, we have worked for the past three years to provide Sterling Hotels multiple opportunities and repeated extensions to maintain its fire alarm system to meet code requirements.”

“Despite the city’s collaborative efforts, Sterling Hotels has failed to maintain their fire alarm system, jeopardizing the safety of their employees and guests,” the city said in its statement.

Regarding the lawsuit, “we believe the allegations in the lawsuit filed today by Sterling Hotels, LLC are fully without merit and do not reflect in any way the practices of the city of Sterling Heights,” the city said.

The city said it will seek to dismiss the lawsuit. 

Akeel said that the city’s behavior is part of a pattern of bias in Sterling Heights, where officials had initially objected to the construction of a new mosque that had sparked an intense debate and a lawsuit in 2016. In 2017, the city entered into an agreement with the Justice Department to allow the building of the mosque.

The lawsuit alleges constitutional and due process rights were violated, asking for monetary damages to be awarded.

Sterling Heights, which is the 4th largest city in Michigan, rejects the idea it’s not tolerant of religious and ethnic diversity, saying it “is proudly one of the most diverse communities in Michigan with a foreign born population exceeding 30 percent along with being home to three mosques, a Sikh Temple, a Buddhist Temple, a BAPS Community Center and Temple and the largest Chaldean population in Michigan.”

“We celebrate our diversity, our status as a welcoming city for refugee resettlement and our consistent rankings as one of the safest larger cities in the nation,” the city said. 

Contact Niraj Warikoo: [email protected] or 313-223-4792. Twitter @nwarikoo.

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