Supermarket chains sued for firing 19 Arab workers

Jerusalem Legal Aid Bureau helps dismissed employees demand NIS 590,000 in damages from Kimat Hinam for ‘discrimination.’

Supermarket_521 (photo credit: Illustrative:Reuters)
(photo credit: Illustrative:Reuters)
The Jerusalem Legal Aid Bureau of the Justice Ministry filed a complaint in the Tel Aviv Labor Court on Sunday against the Kimat Hinam (‘Almost Free’) grocery chain on behalf of 13 Arab Israelis who claim the chain fired them because they are Arabs.
Attorney Limor Goldenberg- Haddad, deputy director of the Jerusalem Legal Aid Bureau, slammed the dismissals on Sunday as ‘discriminatory.’ “The complaint concerns violations of the deepest and most delicate foundations of Israeli society,” she said. “It is contrary to the law and to rules of justice.”
According to the complaint, the national chain, which is owned by the Ramle-headquartered Zim Group and has 27 branches across Israel, simultaneously dismissed 19 Arab-Israeli employees in March without any prior warning.
Thirteen of those workers subsequently turned to the Jerusalem Legal Aid Bureau for assistance.
The workers, all employees at the grocery chain’s Modi’in branch, say they were suddenly called to a late-evening meeting where managers handed them identical letters of dismissal.
The letters said the workers were being fired for “incompatibility with the chain and inappropriate behavior.”
However, the complaint notes that all of the employees worked in different roles and in different departments of the Modi’in branch, and their only shared characteristic was that they are all Arab Israelis.
The 13 plaintiffs also claim they had been subjected to abusive treatment by managers and staff on the grounds of their nationality, and allege that the chain made Jewish managers at the branch sign a letter of complaint accusing Arab staff of being a security threat.
They further allege that the Modi’in branch manager had said he did not want to employ Arabs in the store.
Attorney Goldenberg-Haddad said the letters of dismissal against the Arab-Israeli employees had been “vague” and made only “general claims.”
“For example, [Kimat Hinam] argued that one worker was disrespectful to customers – but his job did not involve serving customers and in fact he barely speaks Hebrew,” she noted.
Sunday’s complaint comes after the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry petitioned the Tel Aviv Labor Court in May asking it to overrule Kimat Hinam’s decision to fire the employees.
As a result of that petition, the court ordered Kimat Hinam to hold individual dismissal hearings for each of the fired workers, in accordance with the law.
However, in those dismissal hearings, Kimat Hinam had falsely accused the employees of various charges, including supporting terror and violence, of being dirty and of cursing, all of which damaged their reputations as well as caused them shame and embarrassment, Goldenberg-Haddad said.
“The law has ruled time and time again that equality and anti-discrimination are rules of justice without which civilized society cannot live,” she added.
Co-executive director of the Abraham Fund, Amnon Be’eri- Sulitzeanu, who has supported the workers since their dismissals and attended several of the dismissal hearings following May’s Labor Court ruling, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that he welcomed the Jerusalem Legal Aid Bureau’s decision to file the complaint.
The way the firings had been carried out pointed to “some measure of collective punishment on the basis of nationality,” Be’eri-Sulitzeanu said.
“That impression grew stronger during the hearings I attended,” he added. “Fair dismissals should be made on a firm individual basis, not a collective one, and certainly not on ground of nationality.”
Kimat Hinam’s co-owner, Rani Zim, did not respond to a direct request by the Post for comment, but the company said in an official statement that “the complaint filed during the initial proceedings [in the Tel Aviv Labor Court] was deleted after the company complied with the conditions set out by the court.”
The company would respond to any new lawsuit if one was accepted by the court, the statement added.