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Kenyan Journalist in US Court Alleging Racial Discrimination

By | December 6th 2011

By Chris Wamalwa in USA

A Kenyan US based journalist and two other African immigrants have gone to court and sued a Jewish organization in the US for racial discrimination.

Peter Makori, a resident of Kansas city who originally hails from Kisii in Kenya and Abdi Murasaal and Bakar Abdalla from Somalia have sued Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) of Kansas City for damages claiming they were dismissed from their employment because their boss, of Caucasian origin (white) discriminated against them due to their race, skin color and national origins.

Peter Makori has sued a Jewish Group on grounds of racial discrimination after being fired from his job (Photo:Chris Wamalwa)

The three, through their lawyer, Brian Barjenbruch complained in their suit papers filed in the circuit court of Kansas City Missouri, that a white female employee who was herself not punished committed the mistakes that led to their dismissals from work.

They also filed their complaints at the Missouri State Human Rights Commission, the Kansas City human relations department and the Federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC). Makori and Abdallah worked as refugee resettlement case managers at the JVS, while Mursaal was their general manager at the organization’s Centre for New Americans.

They are seeking millions of shillings in compensation for unfairly losing their jobs and other inconveniences. They claim in their suit papers the fact their colleague who is white was never punished despite evidence of impropriety on her job performance showed that they were victims of racial discrimination.

The center works with the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) – a body that is contracted by the US State Department for Homeland Security - to bring refugees to America from turbulent regions around the world.

The organization (JVS) was established soon after the Second World War to rescue and resettle Jews who were being persecuted in Europe and in the USA. Soon after resettling the Jews in America, the organization reverted to helping refugees fleeing persecution from other parts of the world.

The organization has resettled thousands of refugees from Eastern Europe, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Burma, Cuba, and from other world hot spots.

The Jewish community is one of the most powerful and influential groups in the United States.

The former JVS employees have claimed that their colleague, Deborah Fiene, who was in charge of housing, had allegedly placed refugees in dirty and sub-standard housing, which contravened the regulations of the State Department and USCRI. Despite this, she was not punished but the boss used the three as her scapegoat and summarily sacked them.

They claimed that their complaints against Ms Fiene to the organization’s executive director, who is also white, that the housing coordinator was putting refugees in poor housing, were dismissed. They allege that on May 18, 2009, the Kansas City Star newspaper published a story highlighting the plight of refugees being housed in poor conditions.

The newspaper, according to the employees, specifically mentioned numerous problems with the housing placements by the JVS. "The person who was in charge of housing at the JVS was Deborah Fiene, a Caucasian woman," read part of the claim filed in court.

Makori who worked at the Kansas City Star in 2006 while on an international press fellowship claimed in his suit papers that a few days preceding his dismissal, his desk at work was ransacked and numerous documents taken away. He claimed that in that incident, he lost several personal documents including refugee files that he was working on.

"I received no cooperation from my superiors in the execution of my job duties," read one of his statements.

Mr Bakar also claimed in his suit papers that his desk was ransacked and several documents, including his citizen’s certificate, which was in his drawers lost. Mr Abdi claimed that the management had ransacked his desk and several documents taken away.

The three complained in their suit papers that they worked more than 13 hours against the mandatory eight hours a day but never got paid for the overtime.

They pointed out their employer had accused them in their dismissal letters that they were sacked because of "unsatisfactory job performance" yet they all had received positive evaluation and each promoted less than a year earlier.

But the employer has countered these claims arguing that the agency was a religious organization that should not be sued for its operations. The agency filed an application seeking to strike out the claim for racial discrimination but the court dismissed the application.

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