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Arab American activist suspended amid sexual harassment allegations

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Imad Hamad, 52 Imad Hamad, 52
DEARBORN, Mich. (WJBK) -

The nation's leading Arab-American advocacy group has suspended the longtime head of its Michigan office while it investigates allegations that he sexually harassed a number of female staffers, including now-state Rep. Rashida Tlaib.

Click on the video player to watch Ryan Ermanni's report.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee placed Imad Hamad, 52, on administrative leave while it awaits an independent investigator's report on the allegations, the group said in a statement from its Washington headquarters.

"It's very sad. We take this very seriously, being a civil rights organization," group President Warren David told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Sunday. "We want to do what's right."

In a letter first reported in the Detroit Free Press, Tlaib said she experienced Hamad's advances when she was a staffer for the group in 1998.

"I was a victim of Imad Hamad's 15 years ago and regret that I did not have the courage to report it to the appropriate authorities," Tlaib said in the letter addressed to David and Safa Rifka, who chairs the group's national board. "Imad's sexual advances were aggressive. He made references to my breasts, he played with my hair when I was on the phone and made sexual comments throughout the day.

"This is why I only worked at ADC for 5 months."

Tlaib, a Detroit Democrat and the daughter of Palestinian immigrants who in 2008 became the first Muslim woman elected to the Michigan Legislature, said she knows of several other women with similar experiences. She said a number of current and past employees submitted complaints about Hamad in 2007, but no action was taken against him.

She said she decided to act when she learned that Hamad had recently "recruited a number of female summer interns."

Hamad lawyer Shereef Akeel said that Hamad build a high reputation from years of civil rights advocacy. Akeel said he hoped the public would reserve judgment until the group completes its probe.

"We just hope that it's resolved sooner rather than later," Akeel said.

Akeel and Dorad Elder, another lawyer for Hamad, said their client immediately "recused" himself from his duties when Tlaib's letter became public.

"We just asked that nobody rush to judgment and let this investigation take its course," Elder said.

David, a Michigan native, said Tlaib spoke to him about her experiences shortly after he assumed the civil rights group's leadership 2 years ago. He said he told her he would need a complaint to act, and her letter Friday gave him the documentation he needed to proceed.

The probe, he said, gives his group a chance to show that it practices what it preaches in standing up for the rights of all people.

"I'm glad that it's come out," David said. "It's a fact of life. Sexual harassment can happen to any organization, civil rights or otherwise."

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