Judge: lawsuit by gay Jewish man

can proceed against Salvation Army

 

By SAMUEL MAULL, AP Newsday.com from the Web, November 18, 2005

 

NEW YORK -- A Salvation Army social worker can proceed with a discrimination lawsuit in which he claims his supervisor harassed him because he is gay and Jewish and then fired him when he complained, a Manhattan judge has ruled.

State Supreme Court Justice Richard F. Braun denied the Salvation Army's motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by caseworker Zachary Logan.  The Army's lawyers argued that because theirs is a religious organization, it is exempt from religious bias claims.

Braun disagreed.  He said the Court of Appeals, the state's highest, has ruled that "religious organizations, just like other employers, may not discriminate unlawfully against their employees."

The judge said Logan complained that Michelle Pallak, his supervisor, "acted hostilely toward him because of his sexual orientation and religious background.  She undermined him in his job performance and treated him differently than she did heterosexual employees."

Logan, who lives in Astoria, Queens, also says in court papers that Pallak called him offensive names related to his sexual orientation and remarked to colleagues after he was fired that she hoped he "did not play the gay card."

"If the allegations made by plaintiff are true, he should be compensated for defendant's bad acts," the judge wrote.  "This action will go forward."

Braun said state and city law do allow religious groups to give employment preference to persons of the same religion as the organization, and to promote the religious principles of the organization.

"However," the judge said, "those limited exemptions for religious organizations are a far cry from letting them harass their employees and treat the employees in an odiously discriminatory manner during their employment, and to use derogatory expressions toward the employees."

Logan, who counseled World Trade Center attack survivors, worked for the Salvation Army from October 2001 until he was fired Jan. 11, 2002, court papers say.

Cindy Molloy, lawyer for the Salvation Army, noted that Braun did not rule on the truth of Logan's complaint, just that it could go to trial.

Molloy said, "We're considering our next step.  Justice Braun has a very narrow construction of the religious organization exemption.  We are not sure yet whether we will appeal."

Molloy also issued a statement by Major Guy Klemanski, general secretary of the Salvation Army's Greater New York Divisional Headquarters:

"The Salvation Army vigorously denies the allegations, abhors the type of conduct that is alleged to have occurred and does not condone harassment as alleged by (Logan)."

Logan's lawyer, Marc Susswein, said he was pleased that Braun found that religious organizations are bound by the same rules as other employers and will be held accountable for unlawful discrimination.

 

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