April 23, 2012
Man can sue over anti-Semitic comments though not Jewish
A New Jersey appeals court has ruled that a man can sue for enduring anti-Semitic slurs from former employers despite not being Jewish.
Myron Cowher, a former truck driver for Carson & Roberts Site Constructions & Engineering Inc., sued the company and former supervisors after allegedly enduring anti-Semitic comments for more than a year. His suit alleges discrimination that resulted in a hostile work environment.
The Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court reversed a Superior Court judge in a 3-0 decision. The appeals court stated that the “proper question” is what effect the derogatory comments would have on “a reasonable Jew,” not on Cowher, who is of German-Irish and Lutheran background.
Experts say the ruling will expand the scope of who can sue for discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination by allowing anyone, not just a member of the protected class, to pursue the claim. This significantly broadens the interpretation of the law, which typically has protected people based on their actual age, race, religion or sexuality.
Gregg Salka, an associate at Fisher & Phillips law firm who works with small-business clients, told The Star-Ledger newspaper that “Anyone can pretty much bring a claim, even if they’re not a member of a protected class. It moves the focus more towards the discriminatory comments rather than the actual characteristic of the plaintiff.”
Cowher, of Dingmans Ferry, Pa., said he was the subject of anti-Semitic banter from January 2007 until May 2008, when he left the company for unrelated reasons. His supervisors admitted to directing anti-Semitic slurs at Cowher but insisted that it was part of a “locker-room type exchange” in which Cowher “willingly participated.”