A former correction officer is suing the state Department of Correction, the agency’s commissioner, and several Muslim employees claiming he was wrongfully terminated after a civil rights group expressed their concerns about his behavior toward Muslims online, court documents said.
Anthony David Marlak, of Terryville, an Air Force veteran who served as a state correction officer for 13 years, claims in a lawsuit that he was the victim of a “hoax” perpetrated by Muslim employees of the DOC who wanted him fired because he was a “Christian,” and because a DOC investigation determined the controversial anti-Islamic “meme” he posted on Facebook was not a violation of agency policy.
Marlak wants damages and his job back, according to the complaint filed by his attorney Gregory Nolan. “We are going to win,” Nolan said Monday. “He was wrongfully terminated.”
“Sadly, (DOC) Commissioner Angel Quiros did not have the strength of character to resist the Islamic conspirators’ outrageous demands and the defamatory media campaign, to uphold American values and to defend the Department of Correction prior legal determination that protected the plaintiff’s constitutional rights pursuant to the First and Fourteenth amendments to the United States constitution and the constitution of Connecticut,” Nolan wrote in the lawsuit.
Officials from the Office of Attorney General William Tong who will represent the DOC, Quiros and the employees declined to comment citing the pending litigation. The lawsuit was moved from state court to federal court.
The meme, which Marlak admitted to posting on a Facebook page that he created for his military buddies and DOC co-workers, depicted five men hanging from a rope by their necks with the caption “Islamic Wind Chimes,” according to a Jan. 8 letter sent to Quiros by Farhan Memon, Chair of the Connecticut Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.
“Imagine if you will that a correctional officer had posted a picture of lynched Black Americans and labeled it “African Wind Chimes” or one of Jews killed in the Holocaust and labeled it “Jewish Wind Chimes,” Memon said in the letter. “There is no doubt in my mind that in those circumstances CO Marlak’s employment would have been immediately terminated because it indicates a mindset of prejudice that threatens the safety and security of inmates who are under CO Marlak’s care.”
Nolan claims in the lawsuit that the meme posted on his client’s page actually said “ISIS Wind Chimes” rather than “Islamic Wind Chimes.” The meme was circulated by Muslim correction officers who wanted to get Marlak fired, Nolan said.
The agency initially determined that the meme did not violate DOC social media policies, Nolan said. But the Muslim correction officers engaged in a campaign to get Marlak fired that included engaging inmates to come forward with anti-Muslim comments he allegedly made.
Memon sent the letter after Muslim correction officers including a captain who was a member of CAIR-CT brought their concerns to the organization that the DOC was allowing Marlak to engage in anti-Muslim rhetoric online and at work. Since then the state police have opened an investigation involving activities against a Muslim employee and the state’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities has received a separate complaint about the DOC, Memon said.
Marlak was placed on paid administrative leave on Jan. 14 and then later dismissed on May 25. He had worked at Garner Correctional Institution during the bulk of his career, according to court documents.
“An investigation found that your personal use of social media has undermined the public’s confidence in your ability to function in your position,” Garner Warden Amonda Hannah wrote in a letter telling Marlak he had been fired. “The type of speech posted threatens the safety of staff and inmates who are Muslim.”
Tensions between the former airman and Muslim co-workers were running high after the meme surfaced in 2019, Nolan said. Another correction officer was suspended for making online remarks about Marlak, the lawsuit said. Marlak was also suspended after making a vulgar remark to a Muslim correction officer at work, Nolan said.
In the lawsuit, Nolan references the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the United States and lists several incidents of Islamic violence. Nolan attached several far-right conservative Breitbart articles that made claims that Muslims frequently lied that they had been the victims of hate crimes.
“It is right and just for American Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Alawites, Yazidis, Shia, Ahmadis, Buddhists, homosexuals and other infidels, as well as peaceful Muslims who are not engaged in jihad, to denounce Islamic crimes against humanity,” Nolan said before explaining that only Marlak’s friends could see the post.
Nolan claimed in the lawsuit that several of the DOC employees who identified as Muslim were “extremists” who had enlisted inmates, co-workers and CAIR-CT to target Marlak, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and who had rescued people of all religions while serving in Iraq.
“Marlak rescued severely wounded Muslim infants, children, non-combatants and enemy mujahedeen, as well as wounded and dying American soldiers, caring for all injured people equally and with compassion, without regard to their religion and has even saved the lives of enemy mujahedeen,” Nolan said.
The Facebook discussion of the meme was only seen by friends who had been invited to join his group which was under the name “Anthony David” so he was not recognizable as a DOC employee or a former member of the military, Nolan said.
“The plaintiff’s discussion of the meme involved speech on a matter of public concern as the speech related to the Global War on Terror, genocide and crimes against humanity perpetrated by Muslims against infidels and homosexuals,” Nolan said. “The plaintiff’s speech is also a reflection of the value of his belief in Jesus Christ. The plaintiff’s exercise of his constitutional rights did not substantially or materially interfere with his bona fide job performance or his working relationship with the Department of Correction.”