December 22, 2004

by Andrew Silow-Carroll
Keeping up with the Jonases

Genuine story or "Onion"-style parody? You decide:

Former IDT workers allege discrimination in lawsuit

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Associated Press

Twenty-three former call center employees of telecommunications provider IDT are suing the company, claiming discrimination against non-Jewish workers that ranged from ruined Christmases to the transfer of their jobs to Israel.
A lawsuit filed in Superior Court in Newark also includes two current workers among the plaintiffs. It names the Newark-based company and its founder, Howard Jonas, as defendants.
"There was tremendously different treatment of Jewish and gentile workers," said attorney Samuel Davis of the Teaneck firm Davis, Saperstein & Solomon. "Jewish workers automatically got their holidays off without having to ask. The non-Jewish workers had to put in a request to get their holidays off and were frequently denied. It interfered with their family and religious celebrations of holidays like Christmas and Easter."

The lawsuit, filed in October, claims Jewish employees were given preferential treatment in hiring, scheduling and promotion, and also alleges violations of state wage-and-hour guidelines.

Davis said approximately 35 employees of the Newark call center were suspended July 30 and escorted from the premises by Newark police officers without being told why. When the employees were terminated several weeks later and filed for unemployment, the company did not challenge their applications, Davis said. In doing so, the company passed up an opportunity to prove that they had done something wrong that merited termination, he said.

Leslie Lajewski, the lawyer representing IDT, did not immediately return calls seeking comment. A receptionist at IDT would not transfer a call to Jonas' office, instead directing it to a voice mailbox where a message was not immediately returned. E-mails sent to five company divisions seeking comment also were not immediately answered.

The lawsuit alleges a majority of IDT's management and workforce are Orthodox Jews who receive preferential treatment, including a kosher cafeteria and paid time away from work to pray in an on-premises synagogue.

The lawsuit also claims many of the Newark call center jobs were shifted to another IDT call center in Har Hotzvim, Israel.

It claims the lone named plaintiff, Paula Harris, was not fired because of "cutting costs, saving money or plaintiff's alleged wrongdoing; it had everything to do with IDT, a Jewish company wanting to have, no matter what the cost, a presence in Israel because its chairman, Howard Jonas, is emotionally committed to such country."

According to its Web site, the company provides telephone service to callers in 225 countries, and has annual revenues of more than $1.8 billion. It is also a leader in calling card distribution, with annual sales of more than $1 billion from 265 million cards.

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