Metropolitan Life Ends Ban on Observant Jews for Computer Jobs

Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. has been hiring Orthodox Jews as computer programmers since it accepted a conciliation agreement last August with the New York State Division of Human Rights to end its refusal to hire observant Jews for such jobs, the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA) reported today. Julius Berman, COLPA president, said the conciliation agreement was worked out with the assistance of COLPA. Howard Rhine. a COLPA vice-president, acted as attorney for two Orthodox Jews who charged the huge insurance firm with Sabbath discrimination after they were refused jobs as programmers. The company had contended that meeting the Sabbath requirements of observant Jews could be harmful to its computer operations. The effort to induce Metropolitan to hire observant Jews began in 1966 when Bernard Rubin applied for a programmer job and was rejected as a Sabbath observer. Melvin Dershovitz, the other applicant, applied for a job last spring and was rejected for the same reasons. Each sought help from COLPA, Mr. Berman reported. COLPA took the Rubin complaint to the state division in 1966 and lost when the division ruled that the company uniformly applied a standard work-week of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and that there was, therefore, no discrimination in the refusal to hire Mr. Rubin.

COLPA then took the issue to the State Supreme Court in New York City. While the case was pending, the federal Economic Employment Opportunity Commission promulgated guidelines which required employers to hire observant applicants unless they could prove doing so would cause “undue hardship” in their business operations. The case was remanded to the state division in August, 1967 for reconsideration in the light of the federal guidelines and the state division, on application by COLPA, applied the guidelines to the Rubin case, finding that hiring Mr. Rubin would cause “undue hardship” to Metropolitan operations. Mr. Rhine contended the ruling was based on inadequate information. COLPA did not contest the ruling, however, and subsequently, the state division began applying the federal guidelines to hiring practices for computer programmers throughout the state. However, a test of that practice for Metropolitan had to await another observant Jewish applicant for a programmer job. The Dershowitz complaint was the first at Metropolitan since that of Mr. Rubin, who took a similar job elsewhere.

After Mr. Rhine filed a complaint with the state division last spring, charging Metropolitan with violation of the state Human Rights Law in refusing to hire Mr. Dershowitz, the state division held a hearing and found that the insurance company had practiced discrimination in rejecting Mr. Dershowitz because of his Sabbath needs. After negotiation the company agreed to a conciliation procedure under which it pledged to consider qualified Sabbath observers for jobs as computer programmers “and in all other job classifications, on an equal basis with other candidates for employment, until the point may be reached where undue hardship would be caused to the conduct” of the company’s business. Under the agreement, the insurance firm agreed to inform its supervisory personnel about its rules for giving time off to employes “for the purpose of religious observance.” Mr. Rhine told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the company’s acceptance of the conciliation agreement meant it had accepted the federal guidelines as applying to not only computer operations but all other areas of its operations, in respect to the needs of observant job applicants, for the first time.

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