Friday, December 7, 2007
BILL WOULD PENALIZE ETHNIC SLURS IN WORKPLACE
Many people were taken aback when the Appellate Division ruled earlier this year in Cutler v. Dorn that police officers making fun of a colleague's Jewish heritage and saying, "Let's get rid of all those dirty Jews" was not "sufficiently severe or pervasive [behavior] to create a hostile work environment." This morning, the state Assembly's Labor Committee takes up A-4209, which would amend the Law Against Discrimination to make it absolutely clear such repeated infliction of derogatory remarks - among many other listed actions - is bad enough to create an illegally toxic workplace. Says the statement accompanying the bill, "It is the sponsor's intent to encourage a workplace where employers and employees are held accountable within their workplace for abusive conduct." 12-6-07
About ten years ago I had the opportunity of being hired to provide a keynote address for a banking conference in NYC. I was scheduled to go on after the president of the organization was to speak---I think it was the NY Community Mortgage Bankers annual dinner.
I was seated at a table with the president of the organization, and several new bank managers from around the country. One couple was from Iowa or Idaho or some southern state. He was a new bank regional manager, and his wife was with him.
We got in to a conversation about how they liked the area, and the fact that they lived in North Jersey, and how different it was from the state where they previously lived.
The wife described her current neighborhood: "Oh we really like it. It's different than before. We have a daughter, and she has found some children to play with in the neighborhood.”
So far, so good. Chit chat. Then she dropped the bombshell.
"She has several friends we really like, some we don’t. The other day she brought home this loudmouthed Jew girl. Her whole family is loud mouth Jews, and we try to discourage her from playing at her house.”
And it dawned on me that this woman had never really met many Jews. She had no idea that anyone at the table could possibly be Jewish.
Now, in my mind my response took about a nanosecond. But the reasoning was clear. Do I let the comment go? Or do I stand on the shoulders of my great grandfather Morris, grandfather Joseph, and my dad Bernie, and tell her off, and risk not getting my paycheck? Well, I thought, I have a good contract, I have a 50% deposit, and if I had to leave after telling her off, that would not be so bad. I felt their smiles.
So, I said in response: "I know exactly what you mean. I also grew up in a neighborhood with very loud mouth Jews." The woman smiled and nodded, commiserating. Then I finished the sentence. "My parents. Very loudmouthed, very Jewish. I know exactly what you're talking about." My sarcasm had apparently met its mark.
She stopped smiling, and her husband looked at me sternly and said, "Don't talk to my wife like that. She did not know you were Jewish."
And I replied, "Look, perhaps where you’re from, you may have not met many Jews. But, here in NJ and NY, you're going to meet alot of us. After all in you’re in banking. And you will not always know who we are. We don't all wear yarmulkes. Or stay kosher. Or tell you ‘Hey, don't say anything anti Semitic I am a Jew'.”
They were quiet for the rest of the night. I did my presentation, and got paid from a man who was the president, who turns out was also Jewish, by the way.
iPhone, Webkinz, TMZ, Transformers,YouTube, Club Penguin, MySpace, Heroes, Facebook, Anna Nicole Smith are all the search terms that got the most hits on Google in 2007.