Man told Jewish co-worker she was in “gas chamber”
Ulster, NY – Health food retailer Mother Earth’s Storehouse says it has fired William Sullivan, an employee from its store at Kings Mall for alleged antisemitic comments and actions toward a co-worker.
The incident drew public attention after Jackie Winder Shabanowitz of Kerhonkson posted on Facebook on Friday, March 15, that her daughter, Sarah, was working in the produce department of the store on Monday, March 11, when “a coworker turned the light off in the produce cooler and told her ‘you’re in the gas chamber’ then called her ‘a fucking Jew.'”
“Sarah went to management, they told her not speak about [it], removed her from produce, which she has been [in] for a year, and put her on the register,” Shabanowitz wrote. “The coworker was forced to apologize but still has his job in produce. On Wednesday, the coworker harassed her again … which she reported to management.”
Mother Earth’s Storehouse owner Kevin Schneider said Monday that the accused employee, a male, was fired over the phone on Saturday. He did not provide the person’s name.
Schneider said Sarah has quit her job since the alleged incidents.
Shortly after 8 p.m. Saturday, Mother Earth’s posted on its Facebook page: “The Management of our Kingston store would like to apologize to our community for the upset that has occurred. The situation has been handled and the employee is no longer employed by us. We have never, nor will we ever tolerate hate.”
Shabanowitz’s Facebook post generated more than 240 comments and more than 720 shares. Many of the comments expressed outrage at Mother Earth’s.
Schneider said many of the comments were “unfair and very hurtful” and that there is “a lot of misinformation out there.”
Schneider said the alleged March 11 incident was reported the next day.
“It started off as a complaint, then it was countered, then it escalated,” he said.
He said the business opened an investigation and questioned other employees as part of the process.
Schneider said there never were any previous issues between the two employees, both of whom were part-timers, and that management hoped to find a resolution through which both parties could keep their jobs.
Schneider said Mother Earth’s, which also operates stores on Main Street in the village of Saugerties and on U.S. Route 9 in Poughkeepsie, has hired a human resources company to help prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
“They have a team that tells us how to handle it,” he said.
Among other things, employees are being required to take a one-hour online course on these sorts of issues, Schneider said, and managers will be taking an additional course about how to handle complaints.
“This all very new to us. We haven’t had issues like this,” Schneider said.
Shabanowitz could not be reached for further comment Monday. Sarah’s father, reached by phone, declined to discuss the incident.