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Court: Non-Jewish man can sue over anti-Semitic slurs

A non-Jewish man can sue his former employers over anti-Semitic remarks made to him by his supervisors, an appeals court judge has decided.

Myron Cowher, 49, of Dingmans Ferry, Pa., says he was subjected to “the continual utterance of explicit slurs about Jews” for more than a year at Carson & Roberts Site Construction & Engineering until he left in May 2008, according to a New Jersey appeals court ruling.

The ruling -- which overturned a previous court decision that Cowher could not sue because he was not Jewish -- detailed some of the alleged abuse, which included, “If you were a German, we would burn you in the oven,” “Only a Jew would argue over his hours,” and “I have friends in high places, not in f****** temple.”

Cowher produced DVDs of video recordings of the two alleged abusers, Jay Unangst and Nick Gingerelli, making those and other remarks.

In a deposition given after the DVDs emerged, Unangst admitted they “contained an accurate depiction of what occurred.” He also admitted using “the Hebrew folk song Hava Nagila as the ring tone for calls on his cell phone from the plaintiff,” according to the ruling.

'Emotional toll'
Unangst and Gingerelli denied they thought Cowher was Jewish, saying they had “traced the origin of their comments to the fact that plaintiff and his wife took a cut on the proceeds of a Super Bowl pool that they were running, thereby conforming to the stereotype of Jews as avaricious.”

Robert Scirocco, attorney for Cowher, told that his client said he had undergone “this barrage of verbal attacks on a regular basis.”

“It certainly had an emotional toll on him, knowing he would be going in on a daily basis and facing this barrage of anti-Semitic insults,” he said.

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Cowher stayed at the firm “because he needed the work,” Scirocco said, adding that Cowher left in May 2008 because of a work-related injury. Cowher now works as a trucker for another firm.

Attorney Frederick Polak, who represents Carson & Roberts and the others, told that his clients had not yet decided whether to appeal the decision to the state's supreme court. If there is no appeal, the civil trial will go ahead.

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Polak sent a “counter-statement of facts” that was presented to the court on behalf of the defendants.

The statement said employees -- all men -- used to gather in the office where Gingerelli and Unangst had desks and engage in “joking, locker room banter.”

Defense: Cowher made anti-Semitic remarks
It said that Cowher would walk into the office, “pass gas and walk out, intending this action as a joke.”

“Plaintiff engaged in joking, bantering comments with defendants Gingerelli and Unangst (who is obese), including respectively directing slurs at them about Italians and obese people,” the statement said.

“In particular, Plaintiff specifically directed epithets relating to people of Italian heritage at Gingerelli,” it added. Gingerelli was “not offended” as he understood these remarks were part of this atmosphere of “friendly banter” and “childish behavior.”

“Neither Gingerelli nor Unangst believed that Plaintiff was Jewish. Other employees also knew that Plaintiff was not Jewish,” the statement said.

“Plaintiff’s incredible assertion that his co-workers actually thought he was Jewish and that he was emotionally distressed by their comments is nothing but an attempt to create a fact issue where there is none,” it added.

The statement said Cowher’s claim was “all the more disingenuous given that he too made anti-Semitic remarks at the office,” and had also “targeted blacks,” referring to an African-American employee with a well-known derogatory epithet.

The appeal judge's decision was previously reported by The Star-Ledger newspaper in New Jersey.

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