MONTREAL (Dec. 26)
A Quebec labor tribunal has ruled that a Montreal newspaper was not justified in dismissing a columnist who allegedly made anti-Semitic remarks in a telephone conversation from her office.
The court ruled that the daily Montreal Gazette newspaper had no grounds for dismissing Elsie Jean Gordon.
The columnist, who has written a society column for the Gazette since 1947, was fired last year after the newspaper received a complaint that she had made the questionable remarks.
The alleged comments were made in connection with seating arrangements made for her to attend a fund-raising event organized by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.
Gordon was quoted as having complained about being seated with “six Jews who were unpleasant” at the event.
She later admitted to complaining about the seating, but denied having said anything anti-Semitic, saying that the paper was looking for an excuse to fire her.
In his judgment, arbitrator Pierre Laporte stated that while Gordon may have erred in her choice of words, that was not adequate reason to warrant dismissal.
“Although the tribunal is willing to consider the fact that Ms. Gordon’s words were not the most appropriate and that they may be interpreted as offensive toward the Jewish community, they cannot, in the circumstances, justify the punishment of firing,” he said.
While the tribunal reserved judgment on monetary compensation owed Gordon, the Gazette was ordered to publish a letter of explanation of her dismissal. Gazette lawyer Richard Beaulieu was disappointed by the ruling, but was not certain if there would be an appeal.
Rabbi Reuben Poupko, a vice chairman of the executive of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Quebec Region, also felt that the ruling was unfortunate.
Gordon’s comments were “inappropriate for a journalist, or anyone for that matter,” he said. “Instead of begin censured, the Gazette should be applauded for standing up for decency.”
Since her dismissal, Gordon has been writing a similar column for a small Montreal community paper, the Weekly Herald. She is paid $60 per week, compared to the $200 for each of the two to four columns she wrote weekly for the Gazette.
The Gazette subsequently replaced Gordon with Thomas Schnurmacher, a former gossip columnist with the paper. Schnurmacher, well known on the Montreal entertainment circuit as a television and radio personality as well, is the son of a local rabbi.