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Times workers charge racism, anti-Semitism

WHIPPANY, N.J., Nov. 30 (JTA) — Nine New York Times employees, including a Jewish man, are charging that they were subjected to racial and religious discrimination at the paper’s Edison, N.J., printing plant. Their lawsuit, filed in Middlesex County Superior Court on Nov. 3, includes complaints that supervisors aimed racial and religious epithets at employees — or ignored such epithets coming from others — and that Hispanic, black, and Jewish employees were denied seniority rights, promotions and pay scales commensurate with their years of service as well as plum assignments that would have enabled them to pick up overtime pay. The newspaper maintains “a hostile and pervasive work environment” based upon “the widespread use of racial and religious epithets” and the “disparate treatment” of employees “based upon race, color, national origin, and religion,” according to the 16-page complaint. The Times management has denied the allegations. The Jewish plaintiff is Harvey Alpert, a 53-year-old resident of Marlboro, N.J., who began working at the Edison plant as a chauffeur in 1977 and is now a floorman. The complaint alleges that, like the other men bringing the suit, Alpert was “subjected to very offensive epithets” that included being addressed by a colleague as “a (expletive) fat Jew Bastard.” The same colleague is alleged to have said “I hate that Jew bastard. I want to kill him.” The lawsuit further alleges that on one occasion, a supervisor overheard Alpert talking on the phone with his father about his dying mother. According to the complaint, the supervisor ordered Alpert to “get off the (expletive) phone, you (expletive). I don’t care whether your mother is in the hospital.” The complaint also charges that supervisors within earshot of the alleged language, “instead of taking action to correct such behavior, condoned and encouraged same.” The other complainants, two Latinos and six African-Americans, also alleged that fellow employees addressed them as “nigger,” “coon,” and “spook.” “This stuff is highly pervasive and of long standing in the sewer where these people have been working,” said one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Jeffrey Bernbach of White Plains, N.Y., in an interview with New Jersey Jewish News. “The New York Times has long been aware of it and has done nothing to clean it up.” The workers filed suit after the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found in August that there was merit to their claims of racial and religious discrimination at the Times printing plant. Such a finding is normally a legal prerequisite for taking on-the-job bias claims to court. The Times management declined to answer questions about the charges made in the lawsuit, but in an e-mail statement to the Jewish News, the newspaper’s director of public relations, Toby Usnik, said, “The Times Company treats with the utmost seriousness any allegations or complaints of any discriminatory or harassing actions or treatment based on race, sex, color, national origin, religion, disability, age, veteran status, marital status, parental status, sexual orientation, or any other unlawful reason. All Times Company employees are aware of the policy.” Usnik also appeared to refer to the EEOC’s August ruling, which urged the newspaper and its accusers to seek to resolve their disputes through negotiations before heading to court. “In the Edison cases brought to the EEOC, the EEOC has determined that legal action is not warranted,” wrote Usnik. “We also believe that the court will determine that the Times Company has acted responsibly in this matter.” But Bernbach gave the commission’s ruling a very different interpretation. “The EEOC’s findings made no difference to the management of the Times,” said the attorney. The newspaper was “very protective of Jayson Blair,” the former reporter whose numerous instances of plagiarism were said to be ignored or overlooked by editors, “but it has not been protective at all of its production staff.” Jim Ryan, a public affairs specialist at EEOC headquarters in Washington said that “The status of any complaint is protected by statute unless the EEOC itself files suit. We are required by statute to maintain confidentiality.” EEOC determination documents obtained by the Jewish News say “there is probable cause to believe that” Alpert “was discriminated against because of his religion when co-workers used religious epithets in reference to him.” But, the text continues, “the evidence does not support a conclusion” that he “was a victim of retaliation for having complained of unlawful discriminatory behavior.” Robert Wiener can be reached at