Friday, September 02, 2011

Postville settles discrimination cases for $450K 

The city of Postville has agreed to pay $450,000 and host a diversity workshop to settle two lawsuits filed by a Hasidic Jewish landlord who claimed city officials discriminated against him and his business.

City officials did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement reached last month with GAL Investments Ltd. owner Gabay Menahem and announced Thursday by his lawyers. But they did agree to the payout and to host a community workshop on diversity that will be sponsored by Iowa State University.

Menahem's company rented housing primarily to the employees of Agriprocessors, Inc., a kosher meatpacking plant that was Postville's largest employer until its bankruptcy following a 2008 federal raid that netted 389 illegal immigrants.

In similar state and federal lawsuits filed last year, Menahem claimed city officials helped ruin his business by falsely warning potential tenants he did not take good care of his properties and enforcing ordinances against him in a discriminatory and harassing manner. In particular, he said the city clerk ignored an ordinance and refused to disconnect water services when his tenants moved out, charging his company for the mounting bills and then filing liens against his properties after he refused to pay.

In addition, he claimed city officials would unfairly charge his properties for snow removal and single them out for inspections and repairs. He claimed his treatment was the result of longstanding anti-Semitism by some city officials that escalated following the raid on Agriprocessors, which devastated the local economy. The lawsuit cited public comments by two city council members criticizing the Jewish community for being insular, among other things.

City officials denied the discrimination claims and painted Menahem in court records as a confrontational landlord who fell behind on his bills and allowed his properties to fall into disrepair, which he denied.

David Goldman, a Des Moines lawyer who represented Menahem, said the case has taught Postville "a strong lesson" about discrimination by government officials. At the same time, he praised city officials for agreeing to settle the case and host the workshop.

"It will be very supportive for those people in Postville who are already trying to promote better community relations and better relations between the diverse cultures in Postville," he said. "There's always been a division within Postville from people who welcome diversity and those who were perhaps more xenophobic."

"I'm glad the good folks of Postville have chosen to do what we believe is the right thing. We hope that bodes well for the future."

City Clerk Darcy Radloff and City Councilor Virginia Medberry, who were named in the lawsuits, declined to comment Friday about the settlement.

Stephen G. Bloom, a University of Iowa journalism professor and author of the 2000 book "Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America," said local residents have often been unfairly deemed anti-Semitic simply for opposing actions taken by Hasidic Jews, who started moving to town in 1987 when the slaughterhouse opened. Many immigrants from Mexico and Latin America, Eastern Europe and elsewhere came to work in the plant. Problems like crime, pollution and substandard housing for workers developed, he said.

"Maybe these local officials want the people who came to town to leave. It's not because they are Jewish. It may be because of the things they did," he said. "Postville was a pastoral, bucolic, beautiful town. ... Now Postville, by and large, is a very different kind of town."

Bloom said some good could come out of the diversity workshop, but that Postville residents are already well-schooled in living with other cultures, given their experiences over the last two decades.

"Of all people in Iowa, I think the bulk of the residents in Postville really know diversity like the back of their hands," he said.


Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Chaptzem! Blog