Should You Have To Be Jewish To Claim Anti-Semitism At Work?

anti-semitic slurs sue lawsuitMyron Cowher is not Jewish.

But as a truck driver for the New Jersey-based Carson & Roberts Site Construction & Engineering Inc., he says that he was the victim of anti-Semitic slurs. "Only a Jew would argue over his hours," a supervisor told him. In an unanimous ruling on Wednesday the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court found that Cowher's discrimination suit against his former employer could proceed to trial, even though Cowher isn't Jewish.

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If an employee "can demonstrate that the discrimination that he claims to have experienced would not have occurred" if he wasn't perceived to be Jewish, then the case ought to be heard, Judge Edith Payne told the court, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The ruling -- which overturned a state court's decision to dismiss the case -- broke new ground in the field of employment discrimination in the state of New Jersey, by finding that an employee's actual age, race, religion or sexuality will have less significance than how the person is perceived in the workplace, according to legal experts. In speaking to the Newark Star Ledger, Montclair, N.J.-based employment attorney Nancy Erika Smith explained the guiding logic. "How can it be that if the discriminator is wrong, therefore they're off the hook?"

"It moves the focus more towards the discriminatory comments rather than the actual characteristic of the plaintiff," Gregg Salka, an associate with the national Fisher & Phillips law firm, noted.

The Carson & Roberts Site Construction workers, supervisors Jay Unangst and Nick Gingerelli, admitted making the remarks. But they also said they were aware that Cowher wasn't Jewish. Instead, they characterized their comments as part of "a locker-room type exchange," that followed Cowher's decision to take a cut from a Super Bowl pool he helped them run. "If you were a German, we would burn you in the oven," one of the supervisors told Cowher, according to court documents as reported by the Star-Ledger. Cowher was also called "bagel meister" by some of the men. (Cowher subsequently left the company because of an unrelated disability back in 2008.)

The state trial judge had said that Cowher had failed to provide any proof that his bosses actually thought he was Jewish when they made the remarks. The Appellate Division has re-sent the case back to the lower court, saying the case must be heard by a full jury.

Once the case goes to trial, it likely will refer to the 1999 suit of Heitzman v. Monmouth County, in which a non-practicing Jew living in New Jersey said that anti-Semitic comments in the workplace created a "hostile environment." The same appellate court ruled in his favor, saying that the perception of a characteristic was all that was needed to qualify for protections, according to a blog, The Employer Handbook.



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How to Sue for Discrimination


Dan Fastenberg

Dan Fastenberg

Associate Editor

Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.

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dcmatern

This would seem like a common sense ruling in other cases. Why would it not be completely offensive to a straight, married man if others at his work made gay jokes about him all day? Are you saying that he is fair-game and cannot sue if he is not in fact gay? I would really get pissed off if my boss call me the n-word constantly, is that alright for him to do if I'm white?

April 24 2012 at 1:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brenda

Good grief....really? Things are just getting way to far out of hand.

April 24 2012 at 12:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
SPQR

After reading these blogs ...no wonder the 1 % robbed us, wise up people

April 24 2012 at 12:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dworkenlaw1

Why should we prohibit 'playful comments'
in the workplace, even if they deal with
sensitive issues?

Everyone knows that it is just a harmless,
friendly joke, when we talk about the
"lazy niggers" or the "drunken, mick irish"
or the "heartless german krauts" or the
"greasy mafia dago's."

Why would there be a problem
with talking about those "cheap
ass *****" or the "terrorist
sand ****** muslims" or the
"drug pushing spics".

That should just be the way
the workplace operates in our
country, and people should get
a thicker skin.

But maybe, just maybe, the
present case went even beyond
those 'single, isolated comment'
situations mentioned above
that some posters ask us to tolerate.

Maybe in this case, In this case, the line was crossed.

The court opinion in this case is rather clear. The opinion
can be read online at http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/a4014-10.pdf.

The opinion explains that "the plaintiff porduced to the court several DVD's
(security tapes) containing comments, repeatedly made to the plaintiff:
"Jew Bag," "****[] you Hebrew," "Jew Bastard," "Where
are [you] going, Jew," "I have friends in high places, not in
******* temple," "Jew Shuffle," "If you were a German, we would
burn you in the oven," "We have Jews and Niggers that work
here," and "Only a Jew would argue over his hours."

The court further noted that "when the deposition of
the supervisor was taken, he admitted that he had called plaintiff
"Jew bag," testifying that he "couldn't put a number" on the
times he had done so, stating further, "20 times, I don't know
to be exact." Gingerelli additionally admitted that he probably
called plaintiff a "bagel meister," a "Jew burger" and a
"******* Hebrew." Plaintiff testified that he told both men to
stop the comments, but that they had not done so."

So, should the "******* Hebrew" be expected to put
up with this at the workplace?

Maybe a few people would be comfortable in that kind
of work environment. Perhaps those are the people
who enjoy making these disgusting comments.

But most of us would not. Most of us would
find this kind of environment unprofessional
and not a place anyone should have to work.

So when the New Jersey Court of Appeals
found this conduct to be improper,
the court got it exactly right.

Thanks for listening.

Patrick
(If you like it, fan it!)

April 23 2012 at 10:49 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
James

This is like saying "I want to kill you" and being executed for the utterance.

It is ridiculous, it goes to the state of mind of a person and not any the actual harm...it is penalizing the employer for being rude not for discriminating (and it is not shown there was economic harm to anyone--more politically correct nonsense (which has ruined this country's spirit) that once was reserved for kids--but now the kids have grown up physically, even intellectually, but have not grown up emotionally--(of course we want everyone to be polite, but that is by refusing to deal with rude people--quitting the job for example)--perhaps in the bosses experience (he only needs to show one Jewish person that argued over something like it in his life time and one non-Jewish person who did not to show he had a real life basis)--but the time and effort does not solve the problem of bias or verbal ugliness--it is more handcuffs on what makes you tick, and makes individuals unique, with the government interfering--they will say the stress of being in a military conflict explains the killing of civilians away from home, but the same person at home says your experience does not apply to things verbal even when there is no actual damage, as if at home what is common in some pathetic mental states is put on trial when no one is hurt---crossing the bridge by using regulation of free speech to regulate thinking--regulating morality from the bench, instead of ordering the participants to a counseling session or something that is real--these days, everything that used to be just a part of life is erased of gradations and put in all black or all white and you are expected to choose one side or the other and not take nuances into consideration even as the world has gotten more complicated. In a case like this as precedent, saying to someone "I want to kill you," in frustration or anger but not meant, becomes illegal, when it should only be immoral or unethical.

That is a sign of a sick society, when it tries to heal itself, it applies the wrong potion to an injury and wonders why it doesn't get better. Of course the employer was wrong and should pay a social penalty, but it is pickets in front of his workplace or people he wants to work for him refusing, not the law involved and making about money things of morality, as people like this that are actually using the Jewish group because he can.

The United States recovery is maladaptive--The JFK assassination set the stage, Viet Nam divided the country, the political division Clinton was the slippery slope, then over Iraq made it worse (which would not have happend if the Draft was in place), and any excuse to grasp to the pole of a polarizing issue works these days to show what a good person you are--because you hate someone--whether abortion, the economy, the President--all the covered up blame game of the losers on the world stage, the once beautiful America that squandered what God gave it.

Its like saying "only a Muslim would argue about where to put the prayer rug" and then having your tongue cut out for it.

April 23 2012 at 10:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Vasu Murti

The United States is a pluralistic democracy, celebrating religious diversity. We should welcome people of other faiths and those of no faith.

Not everyone in the United States is a Christian. This country wasn’t founded by Christians; many of America’s founding fathers were Deists, often at odds with Bible-believing Christianity. There are other faiths, besides the Abrahamic faiths. There are other holy books out there besides the Bible or the Koran, like the Bhagavad-gita, which also claim to be the word of God.

On animal rights issues, I'm at odds with pro-life Christians adhering to a double-standard: they insist their stand against abortion be applied to everyone, including others outside of their faith, but then they embrace moral relativism when it suits them, e.g.:

“...*your* religion says it’s wrong to kill animals for food, clothing or sport; mine doesn’t...”

Conservative Christians are hostile toward anything even remotely resembling a "dietary law" and fearful of being "converted" to another religion.

They react to the idea of a vegetarian future with an anti-semitic yawn, likening it to a scene in Woody Allen's 1973 movie, Sleeper.

(A natural foods faddist placed unwittingly in suspended animation, wakes up two hundred years in the future to find what he thought would be the wave of the future, didn't happen.)

I've experienced Christian bigotry firsthand, and I'm not Jewish, nor a follower of any of the Abrahamic faiths. Jews and Muslims don't worship images. Jews and Muslims don't believe in the incarnations of God. Jews and Muslims don't worship a plural Godhead, similar to Trinitarian Christianity. Jews and Muslims don't worship other human beings (e.g., saints and spiritual masters in our disciplic succession).

The idea that we should abstain from eating meat, etc., because it's morally wrong to take the life of a fellow creature, strikes these Christians as a "Jewish" belief, even though my dear friend Rose Evans (a pro-life Episcopalian and editor and prior publisher of a "consistent-ethic" periodical on the religious left) says there are more Christian vegetarians than Jewish vegetarians.

Even after I point out that Susan B. Anthony, Mohandas Gandhi, Count Leo Tolstoy, George Bernard Shaw, Percy Shelley, Leonardo Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, etc. were all vegetarian and none of them were Jewish...

...these anti-semitic Christians point their fingers at their noses, or stick their legs out like a dog taking a leak, etc..

These Christians react as if we were talking about a sectarian custom like circumcision rather than the animals' right to life, and they act as if they're being dragged kicking and screaming back into Mosaic Law.

You'd think the unborn-right-to-lifers would immediately understand the animal-right-to-lifers!

Sometimes it's easier to get an idea across by being lighthearted:

"How many polyesters did you have to kill to make that suit?" quipped Steve Martin in the '70s.

April 23 2012 at 10:14 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
IRVING

How are the judges going to react to someone who claims discrimination when he hears someone say something offensive about muslims? We don't have enough lawyers or courts to handle it.

April 23 2012 at 9:57 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
susierobo

I am a proponent of free speech; however, some people think that this means that you could say anything you damn well please without recourse - not true. For example, it is against the law to yell "Fire!" in a crowded movie theatre when there is no fire. The Civil Rights Act protects specific groups from acts of discrimination in the workplace; therefore, slurs of any nature are prohibited. Even if you are perceived to be a member of a protected group (but are not) you are still protected, because the hate speech was directed at you. Also, even if it is not directed at you, but you are offended by the comment, joke, etc. you can sue for being exposed to a hostile work environment. I teach this regularly in a vocational course I instruct. The same rules apply for sexual harassment. A work environment should be a professional setting. Besides that, you should treat others as you would wish to be treated (or how you wish your mother or father or son or daughter, etc. should be treated). I work in a prison, so I am bombarded by swear words, racial slurs, homophobic terms - you name it - on a daily basis. Do I sue for a hostile work environment? No. Could I? Yes. However, this does not mean that I agree with any of this speech. All it does is lessen my opinion of that person in terms of his or her intelligence and class.

April 23 2012 at 9:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to susierobo's comment
thomas

"Even if you are perceived... protected group, you are protected".
Protected group? Are we not ALL protected? Are the rights or sensitivities of one group of people more important that another? Are we not ALL equal ? No class of people should receive special priveleges, or be denied their rights for any reason.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...

No-one has the right to be treated any differntly based on the color of their skin or the size of their nose for that matter. The "Fire in a Crowded Theater" is irrelevant to this argument. Yelling FIRE... is not protected Free Speech because it is considered an incitement to panic and has the potential to cause injury or death! We have a right to be protected from being maniplated into causing death. We don't have the right to not ever be offended. If it were a crime to offend someone, I suspect most everyone who has ever spoken about politics would be charged! We do have the right to not be offended in that we have the right to remove ourselves from things we find offensive. I don't HAVE to work for someone who constantly insults or demeans me or something I care about. I am free to leave and find another job. I don't have to listen to a song I find offensive or watch a movie. I am free to turn the channel.
A work environment SHOULD be a "professional setting. But legally it doesn't HAVE to be. It is ridiculous and frankly un-Constitutional that a person can take a job somewhere and then sue the workplace because they don't like something there. A woman can apply for and accept a job freely say, in a garage, and then sue the owner because she is offended by the calenders covered with naked women that have hung on the wall since before she came. The judges that rule in these cases are ruling based on political correctness and not Rule of Law. And frankly, it's an Alinsky-style tactic developed and employed to create division and animosity in order to further weaken the resolve and integrity of the nation and of the people, so that the "Fundamental Transformation" will meet less resistance from a united people!

April 23 2012 at 11:08 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Holly

This is just what we need, right? Step by step instructions on how to sue. Will someone Please make it stop! The only ones who benefit are the lawyers.

April 23 2012 at 9:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rtgarton

These companies make me sick. I am half Jewish and find this attitude offensive as well. Corporations today seem to totally lack any standards of decency. I was let go from a major intimate apparel company when I was 52 I was not a model or in the public view. Just some guy who who worked in package development, A lie was spread by a female employee, so I get fired and my reputation destroyed. What a easy way for the company knowing the woman lied to let me go. Its one of many ways to get rid of the "older worker." This way they can hire the "fresh looking" kid. Same goes with race and religion in a lot of companies today. Try to prove age discrimination. Corporate America values make me want to vomit. I would love to see and be in a march on Washington ending age discrimination in this country.

April 23 2012 at 9:41 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rtgarton's comment
mscellanus

rtgarton the same goes for "bullyism" The biggest bullies can be found running companies, schools, and the government.

April 23 2012 at 9:51 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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