(JTA) – An Ohio woman who alleged six years ago that she had been fired because she was an observant Jew has won $1.1 million in damages after a federal jury sided with her.
Kimberly Edelstein had been working as a magistrate in Butler County, Ohio, when she asked her supervisor — a judge — for eight days off during the fall High Holidays, according to the lawsuit she filed in 2017.
“Holy cow, eight days!” Common Pleas Judge Greg Stephens yelled back at her, according to the lawsuit. She was fired four days later and claims the judge and two prosecutors named in the lawsuit disparaged her to other employers, making it difficult for her to find work.
Her lawsuit spun through the court system where she once worked for the next several years. Judges dismissed Edelstein’s claims against one prosecutor and ruled against her appeal of the case against the other. But they allowed her religious discrimination claim against Judge Stephens to go forward to a jury trial, saying there was evidence that could find the judge’s dismissal “at least in part” motivated by Edelstein’s desire to observe the Jewish holidays.
The trial against Judge Stephens began Jan. 23 and included testimony from a rabbi. The jury returned its verdict late on Friday, taking less than a day to deliberate.
“The jury’s finding is an important reminder that the law provides protections to those seeking accommodations for religious beliefs and practices,” Rabbi Ari Ballaban, director of the Cincinnati Jewish Community Relations Council, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a statement. “Neither employers nor government institutions may retaliate against Jews (or other religious minorities) for seeking to exercise their protected religious rights.”
The jury’s finding comes amid growing attention to workplace antisemitism. A recent nonscientific survey found that a significant portion of hiring managers said they are less likely to advance candidates who are Jewish; while the survey had flaws, it ignited a conversation about whether workplace antisemitism could be rising alongside other expressions of antisemitism in the United States.
Edelstein’s case has cost Butler County, located outside Cincinnati, at least $100,000 in legal fees to date, according to local reports, and more than 200 documents have been filed. It may not be totally over.
“We strongly believe that the evidence didn’t support the verdict and we’re considering options,” an attorney representing Judge Stephens told the Journal-News, a local paper.
Edelstein’s case had been met with some skepticism from the local legal community. She “had a very poor reputation around the courthouse,” Daniel Phillips, a Jewish former assistant prosecuting attorney in Butler County, wrote in a 2019 letter to Cincinnati’s Jewish newspaper, the American Israelite.
“Many people advised Judge Stephens to terminate her when he took office. He rejected that advice and gave her a clean slate and an opportunity to succeed,” Phillips wrote at the time. “When she failed to act in [a] professional manner and produce quality work, he fired her. Because of her failures she is now besmirching three good men with the taint of racism. That is shameful.” Phillips was elected to the position of county juvenile court judge last year.
Court filings show that Edelstein accused Stephens, who is also a Baptist pastor, of “extreme Christian” beliefs and of following a doctrine with an “attitude toward Jews,” and also said that his court had made fun of her description of Passover preparations.
In 2019, as her lawsuit was making its way through the courts, Edelstein told the Cincinnati Enquirer she had experienced suicidal thoughts after being unable to find work. She applied for nearly 200 jobs in the aftermath of her firing but didn’t get any of them, she said, adding that she had resorted to using food pantries to feed her family. Court documents showed that Jewish Vocational Services, a local nonprofit, was reluctant to help her for fear of litigation.
“I’ve lost my career and I didn’t do anything to deserve this,” she told the Enquirer. She also reportedly told friends she wished she wasn’t Jewish and stopped going to synagogue. Subsequent posts on her Facebook page indicate she has continued to observe at least some Jewish practices.
Edelstein did manage to briefly land one legal job, in a courthouse near Bowling Green, but lied to her bosses about being fired from her previous job and was forced to resign months later.
Edelstein has mostly represented herself in these proceedings. She briefly retained the services of a local attorney who left the case after five weeks, telling the judge that “the client does not cooperate with counsel.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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