Perot and Top Aide Deny Anti-semitism in Dismissal of Employee over Beard

Ross Perot’s top Jewish adviser, Morton Myerson, told the Anti-Defamation League this week that there was no anti-Semitism involved when Perot’s company fired an Orthodox Jew for wearing a beard in the early 1980s.

ADL’s director, Abraham Foxman, who had asked for an explanation of the firing, said Thursday, “We’re putting the issue behind us.”

But he added, “There needs to be an effort on our part to further sensitize Mr. Perot and his team.”

Myerson, who ran Perot’s company, Electronic Data Systems, wrote a letter to Foxman saying neither he nor Perot had any knowledge of the case at the time.

“EDS had a policy that did not tolerate discrimination based on religion, sex or color,” he wrote. “EDS did not, and does not, tolerate discrimination and no one with facts could yield a concern about anti-Semitism.”

The case involved Reggie Dallaire, an employee of EDS who converted from Catholicism to Judaism and grew a beard which he claimed was an expression of his new religious beliefs.

Dallaire was fired for wearing the beard because it was against longstanding EDS policy, but a federal district court found the company discriminated against him on the basis of his religion and ordered him reinstated.

Myerson said in his letter that EDS managers talked to Dallaire before he was fired and felt he was not credible when he said the beard was a religious necessity.

“They did not believe he was sincere and told him he was violating corporate policy,” Myerson said. “They talked with his rabbi and several other rabbis and determined that a beard was not required either by the faith or at his synagogue. In fact, most of the members of his synagogue did not wear beards or facial hair.”

RELIGIOUS PRACTICES RESEARCHED

Background material supplied by Myerson to Foxman indicated Dallaire’s supervisor researched his employee’s religious practices. “He did not keep kosher and did not observe other practices of Orthodox Judaism in his daily life,” said the report.

The report by the supervisor went beyond the narrow question of religion to include the observation that Dallaire’s neighbors were “some-what afraid of him. It seemed he had the habit of mowing his lawn while wearing visible firearms,” the report said.

Foxman, who had asked for an explanation about this episode more than a month ago, wrote back to Myerson on Wednesday. He said, “We believe EDS could have dealt with this employee’s asserted religious claims in a more sensitive manner. We trust that current company policy and practice allows for more appropriate handling of such claims.”

The case has cropped up from time to time in discussions of Perot that seek to clarify his record and shed light on what his policies as president might be.

It reared its head only this week when Perot appeared on late-night ABC television to answer questions and was asked to explain the case.

First, Perot said he had never heard of it. Then, when pressed by host Peter Jennings, he said he had never asked Myerson for an explanation.

“In terms of your inference of discrimination, please don’t lose sight of the fact that the great builder of EDS happened to be a Jew, Mort Myerson,” Perot said.

Foxman said that answer was insufficient. “The fact that the president was a Jew is nice, but it’s irrelevant.”

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