A former food supervisor (mashgiach) with the Kashruth Council of Canada is taking his ex-employer before the Ontario Human Rights Commission on an allegation of age discrimination.
Sam Amar, 65, who worked for the Kashruth Council (known as COR) for 28 years, alleges he was let go in May 2016 as a cost-saving measure.
In a document filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, Amar stated that “in the last number of years, COR has been engaged in a practice of trying to replace older employees and replacing them with newer, younger employees. While they charge their clients the same or higher rates, they benefit by paying their newer younger employees at lower rates.”
Amar asked the tribunal for $68,800 in monetary compensation, an order to reinstate him in his former position, and for COR to be monitored for five years “to make sure they followed the Human Rights Code in its entirety.”
COR denies Amar’s allegations. In its response, it stated it had “serious concerns regarding the applicant’s [Amar’s] performance and competence that had been noted in the eight-year period prior to his termination.” COR kept him at work, as it “wished to be compassionate with [Amar] owing to his lengthy tenure and personal circumstances.”
COR stated it found him a job in “a position where he could do no harm.” COR stated it created a new job for him working the night shift in a bakery that already had adequate supervision. It was “a make-work project, as no such position had existed in the past.”
“The termination of the applicant’s employment was unrelated to his age,” COR stated. “The council has hired and retained numerous mashgichim who are in the same age range or older. The applicant added no value in his last position and, as a result, the decision was taken to terminate his employment. His position was eliminated, not replaced.”
On Jan. 8, 2015, Rabbi Tsvi Heber, COR’s director of community kosher, sent a letter to Amar saying the kashrut agency was willing to offer him “two years of working notice to Dec. 31, 2016” along with a payment of $10,000. The offer was made “conditional upon you not being terminated for just cause or resigning your employment between now and Dec. 31, 2016.”
Amar declined the offer and in his claim to the tribunal, he alleged that Rabbi Heber told him “a number of times in person that I have worked for a long time for COR, did an excellent job and it is time that I retire… He tried to pressure me a number of times to retire, but I kept refusing to agree, stating that I was physically and mentally capable of doing my job, but he ignored me and laid me off permanently regardless.
“I have always enjoyed my job, which I am good at, and it kept me busy and occupied. I was told I was old and why would I want to continue to work hard, it was better I retire and relax and enjoy life. This job keeps me alive, and I don’t want to give it up voluntarily,” Amar stated.
He also told the tribunal that COR “belittled me, made me feel worthless, old and useless.”
In filed documents, Amar stated he earned $650 a week and was ready to continue working another year until he turned 65, or even longer, until he was physically unable to continue.
According to COR’s filing with the tribunal, concerns over Amar’s performance were first recorded in July 2006, but it wasn’t until November 2013, when the Kashruth Council held executive meetings “about managing costs and dispensing with the services of staff who were not adding value,” that Amar’s future was specifically discussed.
“The council sought an honourable way to part company with him and determined that referring to his cessation of employment as a retirement would be a face-saving route for him. It attempted to cushion the financial impact of the termination with the applicant.”
On March 21, a Human Rights Tribunal hearing was set for June 26 and 27, but that may be postponed. On March 28, COR’s legal counsel notified the tribunal that neither side would be available at that time and asked for a postponement until Sept. 6.
COR declined to comment on the case, saying it was “pending litigation.”
Amar did not return calls for comment, though his adviser, Morley Rand, who had agreed to help mediate the dispute, said Amar is one of several mashgichim terminated by COR because of their age, as cost-saving measures.
COR, a registered charity, has had a number of disputes with employees over the years.
In 2012, an employment standards officer (ESO) found it owed 58 employees more than $10,000 in overtime, vacation pay and other wages. It settled with all except three, whom it paid about $140.
In a case currently before the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB), COR is disputing a November 2013 inspection by the Ministry of Labour and a March 2014 ministry compliance order relating to the overtime and hours of work of its mashgichim and the records kept by COR. The ministry found COR did not pay its mashgichim overtime pay as required by the Employment Standards Act (ESA).
COR maintains it pays its mashgichim beyond ESA requirements.
In preliminary legal arguments, the OLRB rejected COR’s contention mashgichim hold a religious office or are management personnel, and thus exempt from ESA provisions. n