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Richmond, Virginia

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Josh Laws
Josh Laws
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Religious discrimination costs $735,000 in New York

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No employee should suffer religious discrimination or any employment discrimination. And in New York City a man recently won a $735,000 verdict because his employer discriminated against him for being Jewish.

According to the New York Times, Gregory Fishman was an employee of the Mass Transit Authority in Queens. His general manager, Peter Senesi, allegedly called Mr. Fishman a derogatory name for Jewish people. The alleged incident occurred after a meeting between Mr. Fishman and Mr. Senesi to discuss Mr. Fishman’s attendance record. Apparently, Mr. Fishman had doctor’s notes that excused him from work. But his employer wanted to discuss the absences further.

About a month later Mr. Fishman took a test for a promotion. He achieved the third highest score of all the test takers. Unfortunately, Mr. Fishman’s obvious merit was ignored and he was not selected for a promotion. But a man with the 38th highest score was selected for promotion. Of Mr. Fishman’s fourteen on-site co-workers, twelve were promoted. He and the other co-worker not promoted were both Jewish.

A few months later Mr. Fishman filed a complaint alleging discrimination. One month later he was demoted and his pay was reduced by $8,000 a year. Later that year his employer told him he was not fit for duty because of a knee injury. Mr. Fishman then presented a doctor’s note for time off so he could have knee surgery in order to meet his employer’s expectations. The employer refused to give him time off. A short time later Mr. Fishman left his job, citing the continuing harassment. His fifteen year career was over.

This is a classic case of illegal religious discrimination. As the jury declared, Mr. Fishman was being treated differently than other co-workers because he was Jewish. We all want to believe the workplace is a meritocracy. But even though he excelled on his exams, Mr. Fishman was passed over for promotion by someone who placed 35 spots lower than him on the promotion exam.

And this case also carries a red flag indicating retaliation. When Mr. Fishman engaged in protected activity under Title VII by complaining of religious discrimination, his employer demoted him and cut his pay. When the complaint is lodged and the employer takes an adverse employment action so soon afterward, most juries will rightfully conclude that the former motivated the later.

Employers are understandably sensitive about their employees accusing them of breaking the law. But employees have that right. Employers are only making it worse on themselves by disciplining those who complain about unfair treatment. They are creating a retaliation claim where none previously existed. And that will just cost them more money in the end.