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Employment lawsuit involves seemingly misguided racial jokes


Fans of the now-defunct TV series "Seinfeld" may remember a much-loved episode where Jerry's dentist converts to Judaism. After only a few conversations with him, Jerry begins to suspect that the man converted "just for the jokes." That is, so he could make jokes about Jewish people without being called anti-Semitic or insensitive.

We all seem to apply a double standard when it comes to jokes about groups to which we belong. For instance, it is only considered socially acceptable to make ethnic, cultural or religious jokes about Jewish people if you are Jewish. But do you have to be Jewish to take offense to such jokes? How about in order to file an employment lawsuit alleging that these jokes constitute race discrimination and harassment?

Consider the case of the New Jersey truck driver who filed a lawsuit against his former company and three supervisors there. The lawsuit alleges that the man's supervisors teased and taunted him with anti-Semitic jokes and slurs; and that this behavior continued for more than a year.

But here's the odd part: the man is not Jewish.

Nonetheless, he claims he frequently overheard phrases such as "Only a Jew would argue over his hours," and references to "Jew money." During one supervisor's testimony, he admitted that he made "Hava Nagila" his ringtone for when the plaintiff would call.

Because the man is not Jewish, the lawsuit initially proved unsuccessful. But a state appellate court recently ruled that the man's case may proceed.

The three-judge panel's decision said, in part, that the "Plaintiff's supervisors were motivated by their belief that the plaintiff was Jewish and thus engaged in 'real discrimination and harassment' . . . That their target happened not to be Jewish should not serve to excuse their conduct."

No matter what race, religion or gender you belong to, insensitive jokes simply do not belong in the workplace. As this lawsuit suggests, you don't have to belong to the group being ridiculed in order to find a joke offensive.

Source:, "OFF BEAT: Man can sue for anti-Semitism even though he's not Jewish," April 24, 2012

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