Sunday, April 21, 2013


I have talked before about how lucky my family was to move to this country in the Twentieth Century. My grandmother fled Nazi Germany in 1938 with my mother, my grandfather and my great-grandmother in tow in October 1938, a mere couple of weeks before Kristallnacht. My grandfather's brother and sister, both married with children, a son each, we're not so fortunate. My great aunts and uncles perished in Concentration camps.  Their boys escaped on kindertransports, orphaned in France and the U.S.   My grandmother's brother fled to Palestine, then it became Israel, and fought in the Israeli war of independence and eventually moved here with his adolescent sons. 

On my dad's side, most of his family came to Kansas City from Poland in the early 1900s.  My grandmother grew up in Poland.  She and my grandfather married in Palestine and moved to Kansas City to be with the rest of my grandfather's family in 1928. My dad was born in 1929. My grandmother's sister perished in the Warsaw Ghetto, while the others in her family fled to Israel. 

Today, my extended family seems to be well settled in America.  My relatives worked as maids, in factories, in bars and as janitors. Their grandkids, however are all college-educated responsible citizens. If the FBI was to look at my family today, they would have little concern.  

But my family's tale is not so innocent. In the 1930s, my Polish relatives, new in this land, were devastated by the depression. One great-uncle, a Bugsy Siegel-type, began working with the Kansas City mob. From the books I read, he was an enforcer.  He was finally caught in a way reminiscent of Al Capone, for income tax evasion. I don't know if he killed anyone in protecting the gambling casinos or what businesses he went into.  The case went to the United States Supreme Court and is easible found.  His son was incarcerated for many years in Kansas for attempted murder and perhaps rape.  As if this wasn't enough shady behavior, during the 1940s, the family sent weapons to Israel and labelled them farm supplies. 

On my mother's side, she had a cousin who had the misfortune in the 1950s - 1980s to be gay. He was not accepted by society.  In his later years he purchased guns and got sideways with the law. He died in the federal correctional facility in Springfield. 

That's not to say all of my relatives are outlaws. The original refugees and their progeny have borne doctors, lawyers, artists, mathematicians, merchants, nurses, grandparents, and some really great, responsible people. 

If the present immigration debate was occurring right before our relatives escaped from the Nazis, we'd all be dead. Some of my relatives might today be classified as terrorists, in common 2013 parlance, but we got to stay. The issue of deportation never came up. I am very grateful that politicians and citizens in the 1920s and 1930s and beyond had compassion for the plight of my family and others like them. I shudder to think what would have become of my family if it were not for the kindness of Americans whose families came here long before mine. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Is There Still Unlawful Prejudice in the Workplace?

When I first started representing workers of color who were fired and demoted because of the color of their skin; when I first started representing women employees who were fondled, molested and harassed by men at work; and, when I first started representing long -term workers who were fired once they reached their fifties and sixties, I was fairly confident that I was going to spend about ten years in discrimination law, and then move on to something else. Surely ten years was long enough for social change, especially when the businesses would be reprimanding, demoting and firing the bad actors. Surely, with an economic incentive, businesses who lead the fight against unlawful discrimination. 

Unfortunately, my predictions proved false. I was naive. Racism, sexism and ageism are deeply ingrained in our culture and, although, an economic incentive helps reduce bias, I overlook a more compelling reason for the perpetuation of stereotype and bias - people who lack self-esteem and who will not willingly risk their own sense of power.  Racists and sexists are oftentimes scared bullies who fear relinquishing turf.  Racists, sexists and ageists by and large lack logical arguments and logic. They act from fear.  Their scared. "That "n" should not have the same job and same pay as a hard-working white." "Those Hispanics shouldn't steal our jobs". "I won't take orders from no woman so I am going to intimidate and embarrass her." Some scared people have a hard time relinquishing status and control.  If they do not have power and status over their perceived "inferiors," where does that leave them?

That's not to say that racism and sexism today is reminiscent of the 1950's or as depicted in shows like "Mad Men,".  it's not. We have an African-American president and we may have a female president in my lifetime. Prejudices against the LGBT community are disappearing. I predict that this maligned group will be next to gain nation-wide statutory protection against job discrimination. People are feeling increasingly courageous enough to blow the whistle on corporate wrongdoing. We are on the right road!!!  But I have plenty of cases with photos of genitalia sent to employees, workers called the "n" word, and workers who are fired right before they reach retirement age.  We still have a war on discrimination out there.  I am so thankful for the brave soldiers, the workers brave enough to be plaintiffs, who have the guts to keep fighting!

Here's to you, the courageous clients who just can't take it anymore and want to insure we  treated everyone equally regardless of the color of our skin, our gender or our age. These are some of the  the people who make America great, the people willing to challenge the status quo. There's more than one way to fight a war.