Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Imprudent Prude, or Incompetent Employee?

I'm back, after 3 weeks that have included an unusually heavy workload, religious holidays, and personal/household concerns.

This posting will comment on some ongoing litigation to which I have no direct personal or professional connection. Susan Seybert, whose employment was terminated by The International Group, Inc., has filed suit against her erstwhile employer for sexual harassment.

Let me state, out front, that sexual harassment in the workplace should not be tolerated. When I held a supervisory position in that great U.S. Government bureaucracy, I was personally compelled on a number of occasions to deal with the issue. I had to deal with one of my subordinates being stalked by some nutjob who worked upstairs. And, in the absence of both a co-equal supervisor of mine and our mutual Division Chief, it fell into my hands to most strongly admonish on of my co-equal's guys who persisted in making unwanted comments of a sexual nature to one of his co-workers (who later, by way of advancement in grade, transferred over to report to me). My personal experience confirms that sexual harassment in the workplace is deleterious to morale and productivity, and therefore avails no advantage to America's economy.

But in our litigious society, unhappy former employees (and their attorneys) are quick and loud with their cries of discrimination and sexual harassment in the lawsuits that seem to inevitably follow an employee's involuntary separation. And no one group has any monopoly on such litigation tactics. It thus falls upon the judicial system to sort out the meritorious claims of discrimination and sexual harassment from those that are baseless, frivolous and/or irrelevant, but asserted in attempted retaliation.

A sexual harassment claimant must prove in court that he or she (yes, men can be and have been sexually harassed) (A) was actually offended by the alleged conduct; and (B) a reasonable person in a similar situation would be offended by such conduct.

While Ms. Seybert was employed by The International Group, she used her company computer, on company time, to exchange with company employees some e-mails containing humorous prose and illustrations of a sexual nature. And so, over the objections of Ms. Seybert's attorney, Judge Pratter of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has ruled that those e-mails may be presented as evidence at trial because they would be relevant to determining both the subjective and the objective standards of just how offended Ms. Seybert was and/or should have been offended by the conduct of which she now complains.

I know nothing about the case other than what I read in Judge Pratter's opinion. But, having litigated discrimination cases, I am calling it as follows:

Firstly, there is the distinct possibility that the parties will reach a settlement before the actual trial (or, if trial begins, before the jury returns a verdict). Most employment discrimination cases do settle (and sexual harassment is a species of employment discrimination).

Secondly, if the ex-employer does not have totally clean hands, and Ms. Seybert has evidence of this, then this might induce the ex-employer to settle. See "Firstly" above. If Ms. Seybert was wise, she kept documentary evidence of her ex-employer's foibles, and she began to keep such documentary evidence back when the employer-employee relationship was a positive one. The first day on the job is not too early to start keeping such evidence. In an employment discrimination case I handled, my client's discrimination claims were not all that clear cut, but the ex-employer moved over to settlement mode when its attorneys became aware of the documents my client had kept over the years. Though not direct evidence of my client's claims, they could have been worked into the evidence, and they would have been quite embarrassing to show to a judge or to a jury. Had my client not inserted certain dubious statements on his resume, the settlement amount likely would have been significantly higher.

[Packrat that I am, I still have, after 30 years, some documents that a former employer of mine would not want to see on the front page of any newspaper. I could probably shitcan them by now, but they contain evidence that is germane to my ex-supervisor's tendencies towards veracity (or, rather, the lack thereof). After 30 years, my ex-employer has been acquired by a Fortune 500 company and my ex-supervisor is out of there more than 20 years. But I, along with so many of his ex-subordinates from his various workplaces, while too involved with our own lives to waste our breaths even to tell the man to go to hell, would not want to be caught shorthanded in the unlikely event that the opportunity for revenge would ever arise.].

Thirdly, given the facts of the case, particularly the evidence Ms. Seybert allowed to accumulate on the hard disk of the company computer she was using, I am not too sure that Ms. Seybert was all that wise.

Ms. Seybert would have the courts and the world believe that she is a prude. Genuine prudes can be tolerable, and can even be pleasant company (my wife's sister and brother-in-law come immediately to mind in the latter regard). What I and so many other people absolutely detest is prudishness of convenience. And Ms. Seybert's trafficking of off-color humored e-mails suggest that she is a prude when it is convenient for her to be a prude, and goes along with humor of a sexual nature when that is convenient. The way I call it, she was probably fired for job competence reasons.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol

Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol

One of the big issues in Jewish education is the balance of, and relationship between, Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol (literal Hebrew for "Holy Studies" and "Mundane Studies"). Limudei Kodesh refers to education in religious subjects such as Torah, Talmud, the writings of great commentators such as Rashi or Maimonides or the Vilna Gaon, and the like. Limudei Chol refers to the secular subjects such as Math, Social Studies, Science, English, et cetera.

Rule of thumb: The more insular the outlook of the administration of the school, the less the emphasis on limudei chol and the greater the emphasis on limudei kodesh. And many institutions have gotten increasingly insular over the years. Carrying things ad extremum, is that students are graduating many of these institutions with little or no knowledge or skills in the areas where skills and knowledge are required to secure adequate gainful employment, or even socialize out on the street.

This is not just an empty exercise in reductio ad absurdum. In the case of Pinches O. v. Florence F., N.Y.L.J., 12 January 2004, p. 20, col. 1 (Family Ct. Kings Co.), aff'd 15 A.D.3d 664, 789 N.Y.S.2d 912 (2d Dept. 2005), the Court found that graduates of the Satmar school system, with virtually no exception, require remedial education in order to be able to go to college.

The way things are in many insular Jewish educational institutions in America: Limudei chol gets to hold onto the running board while limudei kodesh rides inside the limousine (or, in many instances, the old jalopy clunker). The limudei chol teachers are paid last (and many of these yeshivas are behind in paying the limudei kodesh teachers and rabbis), and, worse yet, the children are given the distinct message, implicit or implicit, that limudei chol teachers are only there because the law requires them to be, but they should not be paid much mind by the students.

Read some of the comments to the postings on theyeshivaworld.com or vosizneias.com, and you will see the piss-poor English grammar and spelling skills of some of these products of the insular religious Jewish community's yeshivas.

Quite frankly, I do understand (but do not agree with) the insular community's rationale for the emphasis on limudei kodesh to the gross subordination of limudei chol. My wife's uncle is a rabbi in Bnei Brak. One of the times we spent Shabbat with them, we discussed these issues. Uncle's logic is that if his sons are going to be spending their lives learning and teaching Torah, then they would not need to learn advanced level science, or any mathematics beyond the basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division; and if his daughters were going to be hausfrauen whose primary function was to raise the children, then their limudei chol needs were similarly limited. [It is noted that Uncle married a daughter of one of the more moneyed families of the insular religious Jewish community, so he was able to marry off his 13 children and get them all apartments. Whether the family fortune can go on to support the next generation remains to be seen, but the well has already run dry in many other formerly affluent religious Jewish families.].

Also, there is concern, which I share, of the negative influences inherent in studying secular subjects.

A little more than a year ago [28 September 2008], this Blog posted some discussion regarding one Mordechai Samet, a product of the insular religious system who didn't perform so admirably, and who now resides, at taxpayer expense, in the Federal Correctional Institution at Otisville, NY. The long and short of it is that Samet blames everyone but himself for his predicament, and does not acknowledge the wrongfulness of the panoply of fraud, racketeering and money laundering activities for which he was sentenced.

Samet can be compared and contrasted to his junior sidekick, Chaim Hollender, who received a lesser sentence along with Samet. Hollender is now out after 7 years, and apparently, is well on his way to becoming an exemplar of successful rehabilitation. Hollender, it seems, has gotten active with a group known as Lasurim, which reaches out to incarcerated Jews, and which brings speakers to religious high schools in order to inform the adolescents of the wisdom of not making the same mistakes Hollender made. If indeed Hollender prevents just one person from embarking upon a career of fraud or other illegalities, then his rehabilitation has been a success, and each additional person saved is pure profit to society.

There is an article in the latest issue (October 2009) of Kashrus Magazine, which I have just read. In an article co-authored by Hollender, he states:

"There are people who have very little education in some areas. They think that if they need money that it is okay to write something that's not exactly true. They simply don't understand that this can put them into a very serious position."

As incredible as this statement might sound upon the first hearing, I can believe it. Being familiar with a number of people from several of the insular communities, I can see how their disconnect from society at large can eventually lead to a disconnect between right and wrong (though I shall defer to the psychologists and sociologists to explain the exact mechanics of the process).

But now, I have some questions for my wife's uncle, which I hope to ask him next time we meet.

A. If indeed Limudei Kodesh is so positive and wholesome, how does that account for more than just one black-hat religious Jew from going off the derech and disconnecting from the various Torah injunctions to be fair and honest and to fear G-d?

B. If Limudei Kodesh alone cannot ensure honesty, and if, as Mr. Hollender implies, the lack of knowledge of the real world impels religious Jews to commit crimes and other acts of dishonesty, do the children, then, need limudei chol as well as limudei kodesh?

C. If indeed the children need limudei chol, then shouldn't the yeshivas stop breaking down the limudei chol wagon and start letting making clear -- in word and in deed -- that the limudei chol courses and teachers are important?

In a few hours, the Festival of Sukkot will begin. As with last year's holiday, we will be hosting our friend "He" as a houseguest, and will have other guests as well.

Shabbat Shalom, and Chag Sameach!

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