Lawsuit Claims Firm Ruined Holiday Season

By Nathaniel Popper

Published December 24, 2004, issue of December 24, 2004.

The ghost of Christmas past is haunting the IDT Corporation, which is being accused in a lawsuit of not giving its non-Jewish employees time off for Christian holidays.

A lawsuit filed in New Jersey Superior Court says the Newark, N.J.-based telecommunications company — started by Orthodox philanthropist Howard Jonas — discriminated against non-Jewish employees in hiring and firing decisions, vacation schedules and compensation.

“This is not how a mensch treats his loyal employees,” said Samuel Davis from the firm Davis, Saperstein & Salomon. Davis is the lead lawyer on the case.

The bulk of the claims involve 35 non-Jewish employees who were fired in July when IDT, a telecommunications company, moved one of its call centers to Israel. One of the employees who was fired, Terrance Beverly, said “that there exists two sets of rules for the employees of IDT — one for the workers who are Jewish, and another set of rules for the workers who are not Jewish,” according to the complaint.

The complaint spells out in great detail the Jewish atmosphere at IDT. The onsite cafeteria serves kosher food, and there is a synagogue on the premises for Jewish employees. In an interview with the Forward, Jonas said that about a third of his employees are Jewish, but he denied that there is any discrimination against non-Jewish employees.

“If we were discriminatory, we never would have hired the people in the first place,” said Jonas, who is a named defendant in the case. “People are hired and fired on merit.”

IDT moved its headquarters to downtown Newark about five years ago as part of a plan to revitalize the town, and Jonas said that his company has worked closely with the minority communities in the area.

But Davis said that minority employees were only hired to get “economic development breaks.” The complaint alleges that Jewish employees were promoted over non-Jewish employees who have better credentials.

Alongside the complaints about unjust firings, the lawsuit seeks damages for employees who were not paid properly for overtime work, which allegedly was necessitated by IDT’s willingness to accommodate the religious observances of Jewish employees. The suit also alleges that while Jewish employees were given time off to pray during the day, Christian employees were denied vacation time for Christmas and for Easter.

Jonas said that all employees are given 11 vacation days each year. He said the lawsuit was a symptom of an unhealthy culture of litigation in the United States.

“I hope that [President] Bush follows through with his initiatives this year and puts these foolish firms out of business,” Jonas said.



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