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Jewish Journal

ZOA defends itself against discrimination suit

by Julie Gruenbaum Fax

June 20, 2012 | 12:08 pm

Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein took the stand last week in a Beverly Hills courtroom as the final witness in a sex discrimination and wrongful termination case filed against the ZOA.

Julie Sager, who worked for the ZOA for seven years, including five years as the Los Angeles-based national director of campus activities, is accusing the ZOA of sex and pregnancy discrimination for firing her when she returned to work after a short maternity leave following the birth of her third child in May 2009.

ZOA attorney Rex Julian Beaber, based in Los Angeles, argued that ZOA accommodated Sager through three pregnancies. ZOA contends that Sager was a problematic employee for some time who was terminated when the organization needed to cut costs following the economic collapse of 2008.

Sager is seeking more than $900,000 in back pay and future lost earning potential. She is also seeking unspecified punitive damages and compensation for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The ZOA is an Israel advocacy organization with a budget of around $4 million.

Taking the stand on the last day of two weeks of testimony from both sides, Klein testified for the defense regarding Sager’s employment history. He also stated that he harbored no bias against pregnant women.

“No one could be more thrilled than me when Jewish women have children,” Klein said. “I am a child of Holocaust survivors. I lost many first cousins, aunts, uncles, and three of four grandparents to Hitler, and I’m thrilled when Jewish woman have children … I wish they’d have more.”

The plaintiff contends that ZOA has fired three women shortly after they took maternity leave. ZOA countered that the women were all terminated for cause, and that many other women have held and continue to hold important positions at the organization.

ZOA says that it opted to eliminate Sager’s position when a new national director said he could perform her duties and save the organization her salary. But in a brief filed with the court, Sager’s attorney, San Francisco-based Charles J. Wisch, says ZOA promoted a male employee to fill the position and maintained the same number of employees in the campus activities department.

“Julie Sager successfully built and ran ZOA’s campus department for over seven years before ZOA fired her,” Wisch said. “[Her] record speaks for itself about her competency and effectiveness.”

Steven Goldberg, a national vice chair for the ZOA and president of ZOA’s L.A. regional board, said ZOA refused to settle, because it is “outraged at being falsely accused.”

“Any type of discrimination is sickening, but it’s also pretty sickening to make an accusation that is completely false, especially when it’s done so cynically,” said Goldberg, an attorney who was co-counsel on the case but stepped down so he could be called as a witness.

California Superior Court Judge Richard A. Stone presided over the jury-less bench trial. Stone is required to offer his verdict within 90 days.

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