At 4:52 pm on November 7, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union’s (UTGSU) Vice President (VP) External Neelofar Ahmed sent an email resigning from her role ahead of a special Board of Directors (BOD) meeting scheduled for 5:00–7:00 pm the same day. The meeting included a motion to suspend Ahmed for violating the union’s bylaws. 

The Varsity also obtained a copy of a confidential report to the BOD alleging that Ahmed harassed employees, including UTGSU Executive Director (ED) Amir Hossein Moazzami, and violated bylaws — claims that Ahmed denied.

Moazzami cited alleged harassment from Ahmed as a reason for his resignation, which went into effect on November 7.

In her resignation email, Ahmed alleged that the BOD violated UTGSU bylaws, and claimed that Moazzami and other members of the UTGSU executive team harassed her. Ahmed’s resignation leaves four out of six UTGSU executive positions vacant.

Moazzami’s resignation and allegations of harassment from Ahmed

On October 27, Moazzami filed a human resources (HR) complaint against Ahmed. In it, Moazzami alleges that Ahmed has been “targeting” him by refusing to answer work emails, yelling at him, and generally showing that she didn’t approve of the union hiring him. 

Moazzami also alleged that Ahmed went to the office of the Toronto Metropolitan Association of Part-time Students (TMAPS) — Moazzami’s previous workplace — and told the ED there that the UTGSU had hired Moazzami because he was Iranian. Ahmed also allegedly tried to pry into Moazzami’s past work information.

In an email to The Varsity, Ahmed claimed that she never went to the TMAPS office to confirm Moazzami’s employment status. She contended that she came across his former employer at an event, where she was notified that Moazzami was a unionized employee on temporary leave. She also claimed that cross-referencing new employees is part of standard practice and falls under her duties as a member of UTGSU’s management team. 

“I took this job to serve the members and help bring the organization to achieve its goals but I am at the point where I can not sleep because I fear that Neelofar may do something more drastic like show up to my home,” wrote Moazzami in his HR complaint. He wrote that he would look into filing a human rights complaint if the HR Committee did not address the harassment he faced.

Moazzami resigned from his role, effective November 7. In his resignation email, he cites a “pattern of abuse, harassment, and human rights violations perpetrated by Neelofar Ahmed.”

Allegations of harassment and misappropriation around Moazzami’s hiring

Ahmed alleged that she was excluded from meetings where the hiring committee appointed the ED and that she had concerns with Moazzami’s appointment, particularly given his position at TMAPS. She also alleged that the other executives misappropriated the UTGSU’s funds by hiring a less qualified candidate and including clauses in Moazzami’s contract that entitled him to three month’s salary if the union fired him after three months.

Ahmed alleged that on October 26, Moazzami confronted her in person and harassed her for reaching out to his previous employer to confirm his resignation status. She wrote in an email to The Varsity that Moazzami shouted at her. She also claimed that Mohammadamir (Amir) Ghasemian Moghadam — the VP academics and funding divisions 3 & 4, representing physical and life sciences — did not stop Moazzami from shouting and took Moazzami’s side. 

After Moazzami confronted Ahmed for speaking with his previous employer, Ahmed wrote to Moazzami demanding that he write her an apology letter by the end of the day.

Following the incident, she received a letter from the HR committee — composed of Moghadam and Tawhidi — which instructed her to not communicate with Moazzami as they carried out an investigation. Ahmed raised concerns that Moghadam served on the investigation committee given his role in the incident.

According to Moghadam, the incident has not yet been adjudicated and is still under review. He explained that Ahmed conducted the reference check on Moazzami without consent, which breached standard professional protocols. As a witness, Moghadam provided his account to the board and claimed to remain neutral during the incident. 

“My intent was to invite both parties to a calm dialogue between them,” wrote Moghadam.

Motion to suspend Ahmed

Ahmed wrote that she reached out to the BOD on October 31 to share her concerns about Moazzami’s hiring, his conduct when confronting her about visiting his workplace, and his simultaneous employment at the TMAPS and the UTGSU. She also claimed that she told the BOD about her claims of workplace discrimination and bylaw violations. 

The same day Ahmed explained that she received notice of a special BOD meeting scheduled to take place on November 7. The primary motion on the meeting’s agenda was to suspend her from her role until the UTGSU’s Annual General Meeting. 

The meeting agenda alleges that Ahmed violated UTGSU bylaws by breaching confidentiality, misusing UTGSU property, and failing to perform her duties.

A confidential report to the BOD obtained by The Varsity argues that Ahmed’s alleged violations and alleged harassment of employees “represent a direct threat to the autonomy of our union and the well-being of our staff and executives.”

The report alleges that Ahmed violated confidentiality by sharing both the password to the UTGSU president’s email and ED Moazzami’s contract with the BOD. It also includes copies of correspondence that appears to show Ahmed discussing the ED’s contract with U of T administrators and claims that the contract is confidential to the HR committee.The report further alleges that, by asking the U of T administration to intervene, Ahmed undermined the union’s autonomy by inviting an external intervention. 

Article of the bylaws allows the BOD to discipline any executive for breaching confidentiality. However, the bylaws do not clarify what confidentiality or a breach of confidentiality entail.  

In an email to The Varsity, Ahmed wrote that she reached out to U of T administrators to ask for them to provide her protection after Moazzami confronted her for visiting his former workplace, given that the incident took place on campus. She also said that she had to report the ED’s contract because the executive team “allowed the ED on terms which are not in the best interest of the union.” 

The report alleges Ahmed misused UTGSU property by using her UTGSU email address to share this information, for which the BOD can discipline her under article Ahmed claims that she used her UTGSU email address so she could be identified and contacted and to contextualize Moazzami’s behaviour.

The report also alleges that Ahmed created a hostile work environment. Along with Moazzami’s HR complaint, it includes an email sent on October 27 by the UTGSU staff union steward on behalf of staff members concerned about working with Ahmed. The email alleges six concerns including providing UTGSU officials false information about the union’s past actions, falsely accusing a staff member of withholding information about the union’s health and dental plan, which Ahmed hoped to change, and general “inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour” in meetings.

Ahmed claimed in an email to The Varsity that no one told her about any concerns related to her inquiries about the health plan before the steward’s email and thus that such concerns “do not qualify as a legit complaint.”

In an email to The Varsity, Moghadman noted that although BOD did hold the special meeting on November 7, it did not proceed with suspending Ahmed given her “sudden resignation.” 

Allegations of harassment and exclusion from executives

Ahmed, who identifies as a brown Muslim woman, wrote that she had been subjected to workplace discrimination as well as verbal and written harassment by Moghadam, VP Finance Zoya Tawhidi, former VP Internal Aanshi Gandhi, and Moazzami. 

Moghadam affirmed his stance against discrimination and harassment. He wrote that the BOD evaluated the allegations against him at its November 7 special meeting and found the allegations to be “without merit.”

“I can confirm that UTGSU upholds a strict non-discrimination policy and is committed to an inclusive environment for all its members, staff, and executive team,” wrote Moghadam.

Gandhi — who resigned as VP internal in October — wrote in an email to The Varsity that she has never engaged in any form of discrimination or harassment toward members of the executive team, including Ahmed. She wrote that Ahmed’s claims are unsubstantiated.

In an email to The Varsity, Gail Fernando — UTGSU Membership & Advocacy Coordinator — wrote that she had not witnessed “any racial or Islamophobic discrimination” toward Ahmed by the current VPs, the former VP internal, or the former ED.

Ahmed wrote that Moghadam, Tawhidi, and Gandhi had excluded her from serving on several management committees, including the finance committee. She explained that on October 3, Moghadam wrote an email to the UTGSU executive team stating that Ahmed should not serve on the human resources committee due to her involvement in other committees and caucuses. 

Moghadam noted that his October 3 email sharing his view on Ahmed’s committee appointments was a normal part of the “collective decision-making process.”

Tawhidi wrote in an email to The Varsity that committee appointments — such as appointments to the finance committee — are voted on democratically. Moghadam clarified that appointments require a majority vote from the executive team. Both argued that the appointment process is democratic and transparent.

Gandhi explained in an email to The Varsity that she was not a member of the finance committee during her tenure with the union. She wrote that she didn’t have the power to exclude members from committees and didn’t take any actions that would have resulted in Ahmed being excluded from any committee.

In an email to The Varsity, Gandhi wrote that she believes that Ahmed’s claims arose in the context of the ED hiring committee’s decision to hire Moazammi — who, she claimed, Ahmed refused to consider as a candidate. Gandhi added that the majority of the executive team voted to hire Moazzami.

Ahmed also claimed that since September 2023, Moghadam and Tawhidi ignored emails from her related to “the finances, administration, and reputation of the UTGSU,” including some where she discussed concerns with Moazzami’s hiring. 

In an email to The Varsity, Tawhidi explained that the emails from Ahmed discussed past matters that she didn’t know about as a new executive member. “My intention was not to ignore or neglect any correspondence, but to seek clarity and gather all necessary information,” she wrote. 

Ahmed’s allegations of BOD bylaw violations 

According to Ahmed, the BOD violated the UTGSU bylaws by calling the special meeting. 

She argues that the meeting violated bylaw 13.4, which states that conflict of interests arise when the BOD determines that a director “is not acting in the best interests of the UTGSU.” Ahmed wrote that by voting to suspend her as VP External, the BOD is “damaging the UTGSU internally and leaving it at the discretion of two executive members whose lack of experience and personal agendas are harming the membership interests.”  

Friedemann Krannich, a director who represents physical sciences on the BOD , wrote to The Varsity that the union hopes to hold a byelection for the vacant positions soon. They also noted that both remaining Executive Committee members are, in their view, “doing their best to govern the UTGSU properly and I do not see them following any personal agenda.” They wrote that they see it as “unfortunate” that UTGSU executives with seniority at the union, like Ahmed and suspended UTGSU President Lynne Alexandrova, “were acting in a way that forced the Board to discipline them.”

Ahmed wrote that the UTGSU’s legal council shared the notice of the special BOD meeting with her. Ahmed alleges that the bylaws do not specifically mention that board directors can hire legal counsel to share such notice and claims that this is “a misuse of UTGSU funds” and “a fraudulent protocol to make the procedure complex.”

Krannich wrote that normally, the VP internal, the ED, or the president would provide notice of a special BOD meeting — all positions that are currently vacant. The BOD decided to hire legal counsel to send out the notice given “the heaviness of the accusations against the VP External and to protect the board members asking for the special meeting.”

Ahmed claimed that, to her knowledge, no members of BOD or the executive team besides herself have taken a workshop on anti-oppression, which bylaw 7.5.1 requires them to take within 60 days of assuming office. Moghadam explained that all members of the executive team and two BOD members completed the anti-oppression training as mandated in August, although there have been logistical delays in scheduling training for the remaining BOD members, which will be held later in the year according to Tawhidi. 

Ahmed also claimed that the BOD also breached confidentiality by sharing information about complaints against her with Moghadam. 

Moghadam alleges that “no investigative report regarding Ms. Ahmed was shared with [him] that would violate her confidentiality.” According to Moghadam, the executives were specifically notified of an email attachment shared by Ahmed, which contained the president’s password. 

Krannich explained that the BOD shared the password incident with the executive committee so they could change the password and noted that Ahmed did not indicate that the email she sent containing the password was confidential.   

Additionally, Ahmed claimed that Moazzami failed to disclose a conflict of interest, as he was on leave from the TMAPS when he was hired, and breached confidentiality by accessing UTGSU data before his official hire date. 

Amir Hossein Moazzami did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment in time for publication. 

With files from Jessie Schwalb.