Lawyer called ‘racist,’ ‘Karen’ by colleagues wins $170K in discrimination suit: ‘I was cursed and badgered’

A Jewish lawyer who was called a “racist” and a “Karen” by her colleagues won more than $170,000 in a discrimination suit that alleged antisemitic harassment.

A taxpayer-backed Bronx law firm called The Bronx Defenders was forced to issue an apology and a $170,000 settlement for alleged discrimination against a Zionist Jewish staffer, according to the New York Post.

The Bronx Defenders reportedly admitted to no lawful wrongdoing in the confidential settlement.

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“You may remember that I was called a racist, a colonizer and a karen [slang for entitled White person], and I was told that I was worse than the dirt under your feet and that my children were murderers,” former The Bronx Defenders staffer Debbie Jonas said in an email Wednesday to The Bronx Defenders employees to inform them about the outcome of the settlement.

A taxpayer-backed Bronx law firm called The Bronx Defenders was forced to issue an apology and a $170,000 settlement for <a href=alleged discrimination against a Zionist Jewish staffer.”/>

A taxpayer-backed Bronx law firm called The Bronx Defenders was forced to issue an apology and a $170,000 settlement for alleged discrimination against a Zionist Jewish staffer. (iStock)

Jonas, who worked at The Bronx Defenders for eight years, has children with dual citizenship in Israel and the U.S. who have served in the Israel Defense Forces.

“I was cursed and badgered until I could no longer stand the hostility,” Jonas said.

Shannon Cumberbatch, the managing director of people, equity and institutional transformation, sent out an email partly blasting Israel during the ongoing dispute with Palestinians in Gaza. Her email, which was addressed to her “anti-oppression team,” compared the situation to “sanctioned genocide” against Blacks and Native Americans in America.

“The present reality of the displacement, disenfranchisement and military violence happening abroad is reminiscent of the settler colonialism, state violence and sanctioned genocide weaponized against Native and people of color in the United States,” Cumberbatch said.

People attend a demonstration against an antisemitic attack in Berlin on April 25, 2018. (AP Photo / Markus Schreiber)

People attend a demonstration against an antisemitic attack in Berlin on April 25, 2018. (AP Photo / Markus Schreiber)

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In light of the settlement, The Bronx Defenders Executive Director Justine Olderman issued an apology for staffers’ mistreatment of Jonas. The firm also agreed to undergo antisemitism training for all employees provided by the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.

“I feel a special kind of shame for not speaking up in the face of internal emails containing hateful personal attacks on you and your family,” Olderman said.

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She went on to say that The Bronx Defenders “stands for the fundamental principle of treating people, whether client, community member or staff with compassion, care and dignity. I am personally sorry and ashamed that both I and the organization I lead did not live up to those values.”

The Bronx Defenders obtained more than $300 million in city and state funding over the past decade to represent poor defendants in criminal and civil cases. According to their website, they also claim to defend 27,000 low-income Bronx residents in criminal, civil, child welfare and “immigration cases, and reach thousands more through community intake and outreach programs.”

"Whenever we fall short of these values, we’ll take action to ensure every member of our team is respected," a spokesperson for The Bronx Defenders said.

“Whenever we fall short of these values, we’ll take action to ensure every member of our team is respected,” a spokesperson for The Bronx Defenders said. (AP Photo / Markus Schreiber / File)

“The Bronx Defenders is a public defender nonprofit that is radically transforming how low-income people are represented in the legal system. We are committed to building a workplace where staff members of diverse backgrounds, beliefs and experiences can thrive and where we navigate disagreement, conflict and harm in healthy and productive ways. Whenever we fall short of these values, we’ll take action to ensure every member of our team is respected,” a spokesperson for the group said.

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