WASHINGTON, D.C. — While race and gender discrimination may be clearer in the imaginations of American workers, anti-Jewish discrimination may not be. A Society for Human Resource Management compliance conference session focused on parsing out what Title VII Civil Rights violations of Jewish talent can look like.
The speaker had two key points. One, Jewish identity can subject talent to religious harassment as well as ethnic or genetic discrimination; Jonathan A. Segal, the SHRM speaker, was sure to acknowledge the existence of “Black Jews, Asian Jews, the list goes on.”
The second key point was that antisemitic discrimination comes in the form of overt religious discrimination, as well as more subtle “appearance” bias, reductive stereotypes and equally insidious “jokes.”
The lawyer, a partner at Duane Morris LLP in the Employment, Labor, Benefits and Immigration Practice group, painted a scene: “An Orthodox Jewish woman who dresses modestly and doesn’t even get a job because she doesn’t have the ‘pizzazz’ in terms of her style. How do you define pizzazz?” he asked. Is pizzazz inextricably linked to modesty or lack thereof?
Another scenario: An Orthodox Jewish man who wears a kippah or yarmulke, or a black fedora, “and doesn't get the job because ‘customers may not be comfortable.’ You know what's less comfortable?” Segal asked.
“Being deposed,” he answered.
Regarding so-called “positive stereotypes,” the speaker told a story about being approached by a potential client because they wanted a Jewish lawyer specifically.
“That's not a compliment,” he said. “That is a negative statement that discriminates against Jews and Gentiles alike, because it's suggesting that somehow Jews will be less ethical, more shrewd.” As a result of this bias, Segal explained, someone who’s more qualified and not Jewish will miss out on a job opportunity.
Holocaust denial was a motif throughout Segal’s talk. Segal told an anecdote about an ill-fated Q&A session, wherein an audience member questioned the speaker’s use of the phrase “death camps” and argued with him about how concentration camps weren’t technically death camps.
He also reiterated a point made previously, at a 2022 SHRM employment law conference, that comparisons of mask mandates to Holocaust-era gold stars are insensitive.
It underscored his point about “jokes.” The speaker emphasized that employers should put the word in quotes, because ultimately, identity-based jabs at work — be they about race, about pregnancy, about disabilities — are not funny.