Behind the Headlines: Jewish Scientists Sue Texaco on Charges of Discrimination
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Behind the Headlines: Jewish Scientists Sue Texaco on Charges of Discrimination

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Employees of color are not the only minorities who say they face systematic discrimination at Texaco Inc.

Two Jewish scientists who worked at the oil company’s research facility for new technologies in Beacon, N.Y., have filed a civil lawsuit against Texaco and three of their former supervisors.

The scientists, who were both fired on the same day in January 1995, are alleging anti-Semitic discrimination and are seeking $200 million in damages.

The two chemists — Israeli-born Mordechai Pasternak, 53, and Anatoly Kramer, 41, who immigrated to the United States from Kiev, Ukraine — say they were repeatedly proselytized and pressured to convert to Christianity by two of their supervisors.

A third senior manager, a Palestinian, systematically harassed, derided and professionally punished them because they were Jews, the plaintiffs said in legal documents and in interviews.

All three supervisors gave them poor performance evaluations and passed them over for plum assignments, raises and promotions because they were Jewish, Kramer and Pasternak said this week during an interview at their lawyers’ office.

News of their lawsuit comes as Texaco is dealing with fallout from the publication of secretly recorded conversations by senior company executives who were discussing black employees in a derogatory way.

The 1994 tapes, which caused a national outcry, established that discrimination against African-Americans was part of the management culture of Texaco and prompted questions about widespread discrimination against blacks at other corporations as well.

In the wake of the scandal, Texaco last month settled a discrimination suit filed by six employees on behalf of 1,500 other minority workers at Texaco. The corporation agreed to pay more than $140 million in cash and adopt diversity programs predicted to cost an additional $35 million.

But in all of the public statements made in the last few weeks by Texaco Chairman Peter Bijur about eradicating racial discrimination, there has been no mention of religious discrimination, said the two Jewish scientists and their attorneys.

Joel Aurnou, one of the attorneys, said that at Texaco, “the same attitude prevailed toward black and Jewish employees.

“All the `jellybeans’ are going to stay at the bottom of the bag,” he said, referring to the term used by Texaco executives in the secretly-taped conversation when they talked about black employees.

In that tape, one senior executive said, to the laughter of his colleagues, “I’m still having trouble with Chanukah. Now we have Kwanzaa,” referring to an African-American December holiday.

Another former Texaco employee, Alec Rosen, who worked in the company’s Latin America division in Miami and has nothing to do with the lawsuit, also said in an interview that he was routinely harassed because of his Jewishness.

Texaco spokesman Christopher Gidez said it was company policy to not comment on pending litigation, but he did say in a telephone interview from the company’s headquarters in White Plains, N.Y., “We regard charges of widespread anti- Semitism in the company as unsubstantiated.”

Gidez said that since 1990, Texaco has operated a confidential toll-free phone line for employees to use if they feel they cannot go to their supervisors with complaints.

Pasternak said he had never heard about such a policy. In addition, both he and Kramer said their direct boss, Mahmoud Kablaoui, instructed them not to complain at a higher level about the problems they were having.

Pasternak had been with the company for 14 years and had been honored repeatedly by Texaco for inventing the products and processes that were awarded 30 of the 50 patents obtained by his division.

Kramer, who worked for Texaco for four years, had also developed products that were publicly honored by the oil giant.

Despite Texaco’s public recognition of their professional achievements, Kramer and Pasternak were fired ostensibly because of poor performance evaluations.

As it has done with the lawsuit filed by blacks, Texaco is claiming that it cannot find key documents requested by the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

The 70 missing documents in this case include Pasternak’s daily work logs for his last two years, said Irwin Echtman, the other attorney.

Kramer and Pasternak, neither of whom have found new jobs, began their action against Texaco shortly after they were fired. The first step was to get permission from the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission to proceed with the civil lawsuit, which took more than a year.

Kramer said in the interview that he had been working at Texaco only a few days when one of his supervisors, John Reale, handed him a copy of C.S. Lewis’ religious polemic, “Mere Christianity,” and instructed him to read it.

“He said we would discuss the book, and kept telling me about his religious epiphanies, that I should raise my family to be good Christians,” Kramer said.

Reale would often discuss his religious beliefs at staff meetings, according to the lawsuit.

Reale was the division’s top researcher and “in a position to very strongly guide” Kramer’s career, Echtman said.

When Kramer complained to Craig Bartels, his group leader and the manager in charge of evaluating his performance, Bartels also told him that it would be good for him to be Christian, Kramer said.

Not long afterward Kramer found paper torn in the shape of a cross on his chair and, later, a biography of Hitler with a bottle of the potentially deadly medicine phenobarbital on his desk.

Pasternak had a similar experience with Reale, with whom he shared a small office for two years.

In 1993, Reale gave Pasternak a Christian Bible, with an inscription that read, “May Yahweh reveal himself to you as He did to your father Abraham.” He later gave him a Hebrew-language edition of the Christian Bible.

Reale did not return phone messages seeking comment and Bartels could not be reached.

While this was going on, said Pasternak and Kramer, they were being harassed by Kablaoui, their direct supervisor who was the third-ranking executive at the research facility.

Kablaoui was born in pre-1948 Palestine and raised in a refugee camp in Southern Lebanon.

His brother became an aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Shortly after the Gulf War began and after his brother was assassinated while standing next to Arafat, Kablaoui’s dislike of Jews began manifesting itself in actions as well as in words, according to the lawsuit.

Kablaoui, who is still working at the research facility but has been reassigned, did not return messages left at his home and office.

In 1994 Kablaoui asked Kramer to run a seminar for the staff about his projects. Several minutes into the presentation, Kablaoui got up and, without a word, left the room, Kramer said.

“He had not done anything like that before to anyone else. It was like he was spitting in my face,” Kramer said, his face reddening as he recalled the incident. “He was letting other people know his attitude toward me.”

It was at that time that the Hitler book and phenobarbital were put on his desk, said Kramer.

The Soviet emigre said he was afraid to approach his superiors.

In the former Soviet Union, “Jewish people could not complain, could not voice their opinions,” he said, adding, “Texaco reminded me of the former Soviet Union.”

Echtman, the attorney, said there could be a relationship between the Saudi Arabian stake in the company and the acceptance of Kablaoui’s behavior.

Half of Texaco’s gas stations, refining and marketing facilities east of the Mississippi River are owned by the Saudi government, according to sources at Texaco.

But no matter what the reason, the culture at Texaco “was that you keep your mouth shut and don’t complain or you’ll get hit very hard for it,” Echtman said.

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