Introduction: Antisemitic Harassment and Discrimination in the Workplace

Antisemitism, or anti-Jewish hate, is something that unfortunately many Jewish folks have to deal with in their daily lives. Despite strong protections against discrimination against Jewish folks, instances of antisemitism are on the rise. According to a new report by the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic incidents increased 36% in 2022, the highest level recorded since 1979. According to the report, in 2022, assaults went up by 26 percent, incidents of harassment increased 29 percent, and acts of vandalism rose by 52 percent. Extremely popular celebrities and politicians have been accused of spreading antisemitism including Gen. Michael Flynn (Ret.), Ye (Kanye West), Marjorie Taylor Green, and Kyrie Irving, to name a few.

Antisemitic harassment and discrimination in the workplace is illegal in Washington, Oregon, and federally. Antisemitism at work can be considered religious discrimination as well as race discrimination. As noted under federal law, persons of Jewish ancestry are a distinct race and, therefore, within the protection of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. See St. Francis College v. Al-Khazraji, 481 U.S. 604, 611-13 (1987). And obviously, discrimination based on the Jewish faith is considered religious discrimination under state law (such as Washington’s law against discrimination, RCW 49.60 et. seq.) or under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Below, we will discuss specific categories of fact patterns or cases that litigants have been able to successfully establish to prove discrimination or harassment in the workplace against their employers and harassers based on antisemitic words or actions.

A. Stereotypes about Jews such as “cheap”, “shrewd”, or having “Jewish money”.

One way to prove antisemitic discrimination is to demonstrate that the employer either engages or allows there to be stereotypes about Jewish people in the workplace. 

In Mandell, the plaintiff alleged that adverse employment actions were taken against him, because of his religion. The Plaintiff’s complaint alleged religious discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. In Mandell, the employee asserted that throughout his police career he faced a pro-Christian and, more specifically, pro-Irish-Catholic bias. Further, he contended that he experienced anti-Semitism for a long time and was a part of the department culture. He was repeatedly a target of anti-Semitic remarks and taunting, such as being called that Jew” and Jewboy”, was told that “all Jews stick together”, and was subjected to insulting and demeaning conduct by fellow officers. He contended that on one occasion, for example, another officer tossed a dime on the floor before him to see if he would stoop down to pick it up, a reference to the demeaning ethnic stereotype that Jews are “cheap.” Plaintiff claimed also to have heard virulent anti-Semitic remarks directed at other Jews, such as “fucking Jews” and fucking Jew lawyer.” Mandell v. County of Suffolk, 316 F.3d 368 (2d Cir. 2003) 

In Goldschmidt, a court found that, among other statements, the fact that the harasser referred to the plaintiff as “shrewd” constituted an offensive stereotype about Jewish people. The court found that a “reasonable jury could conclude that certain of defendants’ statements, including … referring to him as shrewd,” were referencing his religion.” Goldschmidt v. New York State Affordable Housing, 380 F. Supp. 2d 303, 216 (S.D.N.Y. 2005). “While the term “shrewd” makes no overt reference to Judaism, it is a word that is associated with a Jewish stereotype and in the context here a reasonable jury could conclude that it was not a neutral comment.” Id.; 

In Prettyman, Plaintiff claimed that Nickerson, her harasser, uttered anti-Semitic remarks, including: (i) commenting on plaintiff’s Jewish money” (ii) discussing plaintiff’s trust fund,” and asking where her “Jewish money” came from, and (iii) commenting that plaintiff purchased her big house with “Jewish money.” Plaintiff also claimed that Nickerson encouraged other employees to treat plaintiff differently because of her Jewish faith and that Erin Jacobsen, the operations department head at the Fairfax fitness center, called plaintiff a “JAP” (Jewish American Princess). Prettyman v. LTF Club of Operations Co., Civil Action No. 1: 18cv122 (E.D. Va. Nov. 13, 2018); see also Shanoff v. Illinois Dep’t of Human Servs., 258 F.3d 696, 704 (7th Cir. 2001) (holding that comments by plaintiff’s supervisor like “[I’m] going to keep your white Jewish ass down,” and “I know how to handle white Jewish males,” were sufficient to create a hostile work environment. The court in Prettyman explained:

[t]he history of violence and discrimination against Jews has spanned the pages history dating back millennia. Whether it be the Alhambra Decree of 1492 (the zenith of the Spanish Inquisition), the Russian pogroms, or Hitler’s extermination camps, few have suffered more or longer than Jews. And America has not been immune to the plague of anti-Semitism. One need not look far to find tragic examples of anti-Semitism in this country Prettyman v. LFT Club Operations Co., Civil Action No. 1: 18cv122 (E.D. Va. Nov. 13, 2018).

Much of this historical antipathy towards Jews was grounded in economic antisemitism, which makes comments about Jewish money” all the more objectionable and offensive. These words and phrases about Jews, like the n-word, are so serious and severe that they instantly signal to an employee that he or she is unwelcome in the workplace because of his or her religion. 

Id. If you are experiencing offensive anti-Jewish stereotypes like this at work, make sure to document them, as they could be used as evidence to prove a case of discrimination against your employer and/or harasser. 

B. Biblical references.

In at least one case, a biblical reference to Jewish people were found to be offensive and constituted evidence of religious discrimination. 

For example, in Hertz, when plaintiff was alone with their harasser, Loritsch repeated that Hertz needed to let his subordinates work directly with Grange. Hertz testified that Loritsch told him Grange would not respond to him because he was tainted.” Id. at 700. When Hertz asked what being tainted” meant, Loritsch leaned over and said, Let my people go,” id., which Hertz took as a reference to the Jewish Exodus<span”>. Hertz v. Luzenac America, Inc., 370 F.3d 1014, 1016 (10th Cir. 2004). (Religious discrimination under Title VII). “Let my people go” was what Moses said to the Pharaoh to release the Jewish people from being slaves. </span”>

Therefore, it is possible to prove religious or race discrimination at work based on Biblical references or references to Hebrew or Jewish people in the Bible. 

C. Graffiti and other antisemitic vandalism.

Anti-Jewish graffiti has been used to prove employment discrimination in the workplace and other contexts. For example, in Shaare Tefila, the outside walls of the synagogue of the Shaare Tefila Congregation in Silver Spring, Maryland, were sprayed with red and black paint and with large anti-Semitic slogans, phrases, and symbols. A few months later, the Congregation and some individual members brought a suit in the Federal District Court, alleging that defendants’ desecration of the synagogue had violated 42 U. S. C. §§ 1981. The United States Supreme Court found that anti-Semitism qualified as race discrimination for the purpose of Section 1981. See Shaare Tefila Congregation v. Cobb, 481 U.S. 615, 617-18, 107 S.Ct. 2019, 95 L.Ed.2d 594 (1987).

Similarly, in the workplace context, in May, May brought a claim on the basis of race, religion, and national origin. May v. Chrysler Group, LLC, 716 F.3d 963 (7th Cir. 2012). More than fifty times between 2002 and 2005, Otto May, Jr., a pipefitter at Chrysler’s Belvidere Assembly Plant, was the target of racist, xenophobic, homophobic, and anti-Semitic graffiti that appeared in and around the plant’s paint department. Examples, unfortunately, are necessary to show how disturbingly vile and aggressive the messages were: “Otto Cuban Jew fag die,” “Otto Cuban good Jew is a dead Jew,” “death to the Cuban Jew,” “fuck Otto Cuban Jew fag,” “get the Cuban Jew,” and “fuck Otto Cuban Jew nigger lover.” In addition to the graffiti, more than half-a-dozen times May found death-threat notes in his toolbox. Different medium, same themes: “Otto Cuban Jew muther fucker bastard get our message your family is not safe we will get you good Jew is a dead Jew say hi to your hore wife death to the jews heil hitler [swastika].” (sic).

May had his bike and car tires punctured, sugar was poured in the gas tanks of two of his cars, and, most bizarrely, a dead bird wrapped in toilet paper to look like a Ku Klux Klansman (complete with pointy hat) was placed in a vise at one of May’s workstations. May contacted the local police, the FBI, the Anti-Defamation League, and, of course, complained to Chrysler. Chrysler did not adequately address the horrendous treatment and the court ultimately concluded that he had made out a claim for a hostile work environment based on religion.

Clearly, anti-Jewish graffiti like the graffiti discussed above can be used to show discrimination in the workplace. Make sure to document such graffiti and specifically take pictures of it if you see this type of imagery at work.

D. References to Nazism, Adolf Hitler, Swastikas, or the Holocaust.

Given the severe persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany, references to Nazism, Adolf Hitler, Nazi imagery (such as swastikas), or the Holocaust can be evidence of religious race discrimination against Jews.

In Rabinowitz, the plaintiff reported to his supervisor that a student in his class had discussed “getting a cake” for Friday, and that during the discussion, it was revealed that Friday was Adolf Hitler’s birthday. Rabinowitz v. St. Joseph’s Regional High School, Civil Action No. 18-16498 (JXN)(ESK) (D.N.Y. May 23, 2023). On another occasion, a student in Plaintiff’s class stood on a desk and mimicked the murder of a Jewish person from the film Schindler’s List. The court found that these incidents, coupled with other incidents (including swastikas and coin throwing) was enough to support a claim for a hostile work environment.

In Yudovich, one of the harassers, stated on two occasions that he hated “Sovs” and referred to Russians or eastern Europeans as the “the Sovs” in a derogatory manner and also kept a coffee mug displaying a Swastika in plain view in his office. Colonel Stoval also stated it was “difficult to work with all these Russians and Jews.” Yudovich v. Stone, 839 F. Supp. 382 (E.D. Va. 1993). The court concluded, when stating that Plaintiff did not need “smoking gun evidence” stated that one of the harassers, Carlson, was “a smoking platoon of weaponry illustrating the anti-Semitic and anti-Russian atmosphere.” The court found that Carlson expressed Russian hostility by the various invectives made to the faculty members and expressed Jewish hostility by, among other things, keeping a coffee mug with a swastika on his desk. Yudovich was thus able to make out a claim for religious and national origin discrimination.

Anytime co-workers, supervisors, or anyone else in the workplace references Nazi Germany, as a Jewish person, you likely have strong evidence of discrimination in the workplace based on race or religion.

E. Antisemitic slurs or epithets

Antisemitic slurs such as “JAP” (or “Jewish American princess”), “kike”, “hebe”, “Hebrew” or any other antisemitic slurs are without a doubt, evidence of discrimination in the workplace.

In Bernstein, the plaintiff introduced several pieces of direct evidence of discrimination including Ms. Cogburn testified that Mr. de la Hoz stated that he wanted Bernstein to quit and she conceded that Mr. de la Hoz “probably” stated that he would “make Bernstein miserable enough to quit”, in the same conversation that he described Bernstein as a JAP” (“Jewish American Princess”), a Jewish bitch,” and a JAP bitch.” Bernstein v. Sephora, Div. of DFS Group LP, 182 F. Supp. 2d 1214 (S.D. Fla. 2002). Second, Bernstein herself testified that Ms. Cogburn told her that Mr. de la Hoz had told Ms. Cogburn “that of all the races that he hated on the planet, the one that he hated the most were the Jews, and that they had to work together to get rid of that JAP bitch,” and that “[s]he and her princess ways had to go.” Id.

In Smith, Rumpf, a plaintiff’s supervisor, started referring to Plaintiff as Jew” “Hebrew;” Abraham,” “Jew Boy,” Kike.” Doubt, Plaintiff’s other supervisor, also referred to Plaintiff as Jew,” and other employees at Specialty Pool began to call Plaintiff Abraham” or Jew Boy.” On more than one occasion Rumpf would refer to the Holocaust and tell Plaintiff: Hitler did not do a good enough job because you (Smith) are still alive.” The record also reflected that Rumpf would often say Heil Hitler” and raise his hand in a Nazi salute in front of Plaintiff.

At times, Plaintiff and the other employees of Specialty Pool would give Rumpf their paychecks to cash for them during lunch break. When Plaintiff would get his pay envelope back it had the word Hebrew” written across the top in Rumpf’s handwriting.

According to Plaintiff, Rumpf would call him Jew” every day — often five (5) to six (6) times a day. Rumpf also referred to Plaintiff as Hebrew” every day whether Plaintiff was on Rumpf’s crew or on Doubt’s crew. Rumpf characterized the frequency of his Jew” comments to Plaintiff as a common, everyday thing, just like picking up tools.” Likewise, Doubt admits that he called Plaintiff Jew” more than once a week throughout Plaintiff’s employment. Anytime that Rumpf needed Plaintiff, he would call out: Yo, Jew.” When Rumpf was not working directly with Plaintiff, he would refer to Plaintiff as Jew” on the walkie-talkies when talking with Doubt, the other crew chief.

While the parties disputed the “frequency” of the harassment, the Court in Smith found that a rational trier of fact viewing the record in the light most favorable to Plaintiff could “certainly” find that the harassment was pervasive during the time Plaintiff worked on Rumpf’s crew, that the harassment continued after Plaintiff complained directly to Rumpf, and that the harassment continued even after Plaintiff transferred to Doubt’s crew.

Thus, if someone at your work refers to you by any of these highly offensive names, you may very well have a claim for discrimination.

F. References to perceived Jewish foods, making fun of a person’s name, and other miscellaneous antisemitic comments.

Another crude way that harassers can discriminate against Jewish people in the workplace is by referencing certain types of foods.

In Rosen, the Jewish plaintiff alleged that he was unlawfully dismissed from his position as a Special Agent trainee of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA”) in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. See Rosen v. Thornburgh, 928 F.2d 528 (2d Cir. 1991).

According to Rosen, upon arrival at the department, Robert Drew Moren, the DEA class coordinator, welcomed the new trainees by advising them that the DEA had been stabbed in the back by Congress, the Courts and other commie pinko fags who were out to destroy this organization.” Shortly thereafter, DEA Counselor Patricia McCurdy derisively asked Rosen what kind of name Rosen” was and stated that she did not like the name and would henceforth call him “Franklin.” During one class, Rosen claimed that an instructor questioned him about whether he enjoyed lox and bagels and repeatedly referred to New York as “Rosenland”. In another class, apparently, as part of a lecture on the cultural diversity that a Special Agent must be prepared to encounter, the instructor explained that Jews only care about their money. Another instructor made derogatory remarks about the Jewish population in Miami, Florida.

Rosen also asserted that his counselors and instructors condoned the antisemitic behavior of his DEA classmates. One trainee called Rosen a “half-breed Jew bastard” and made other religious slurs. Although the staff was aware of this trainee’s expressed antisemitism, Rosen was paired with this individual for various practical training sessions. The court in Rosen ultimately concluded that Rosen had proven a claim of harassment based on religion.

CONCLUSION

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Antisemitism is on the rise and a huge problem in the workplace. If you are experiencing any treatment like the above at work, you should document this treatment and contact an experienced employment attorney immediately!

Colin F. McHugh, the founder of McHugh Law, PLLC is an experienced employment attorney in courts in Washington, Oregon, and federally. Mr. McHugh has recovered millions of dollars in his career for employees who have experienced employment discrimination, hostile work environment and wrongful termination. If you have experienced discrimination or a hostile work environment at work, you can find out more information or contact Colin’s team below.

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