Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Rabbi fired as chaplain from Brooklyn lockup sues federal prison system, ex-bosses over religious discrimination claims 

A former Jewish chaplain working in a Brooklyn federal prison said his bosses discriminated against him — and ultimately fired him — for his religion.

Rabbi Naftali Ausch, a certified chaplain and Hasidic rabbi in Williamsburg, is now suing the federal prison system and his former bosses who, he says, subjected him to the discrimination, a hostile workplace and retaliation when he complained.

Ausch started as a chaplain in the Metropolitan Detention Center in July 2009 and said he did well by the inmates he counseled. Prisoners of all faiths talked with him at the Sunset Park facility and he enjoyed the work.

“People felt comfortable with me,” Ausch, 64, told the Daily News on Tuesday. But problems started for him around fall 2012, when the Rev. David Barry became Ausch’s supervisor.

Ausch had a Monday-to-Friday schedule, which let him attend morning prayers and make it home at the end of the work week for Shabbat.

But that became a hassle.

Barry, a Jesuit priest, “always gave Rabbi Ausch a difficult time about accommodating his religion,” said the lawsuit filed Monday in Brooklyn federal court.

In December 2012, Ausch told Barry about volunteers for the upcoming holiday of Purim, which fell that year on a Sunday. Ausch said he didn’t work on Sundays, but Barry allegedly lost his temper and vowed to “fix that.” Two days later, Barry put Ausch on a Sunday-to-Thursday schedule.

“I’m sure your God will forgive you. He is a forgiving God,” Barry said, according to Ausch’s lawsuit.

The new schedule began earlier in the day, which interfered with Ausch’s morning prayers. When the rabbi didn’t show up the Sunday of Purim, he was disciplined and docked pay. Ausch’s suit said Barry “often made derogatory remarks to the Jewish inmates and other chaplains in front of Rabbi Ausch, and when Rabbi Ausch was not present. These comments were perceived by Ausch, as well as his fellow chaplains, to be anti-Semitic.”

The rabbi filed complaints with the Bureau of Prisons, which he said only led to further scrutiny from Barry, and then another supervisor, after Barry retired around September 2014.

Ausch was fired in October 2015 for bringing in tefillin, a prayer accessory that prison authorities claimed was contraband. When he heard about his termination, Ausch said he was “shocked to death” and cried as he went home to his wife.

Barry could not be immediately reached for comment. The Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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