Chetrit discrimination case settled out of court

A discrimination lawsuit against the Chetrits, one of city’s most powerful and secretive real estate families, has been settled just a few days before it was set to go to trial.

The suit, which essentially accused the Chetrit Group of firing an employee because he was insufficiently Jewish, was dismissed yesterday, according to a spokesperson for Judge Harold Baer of the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York.

Opening arguments had been set for Monday morning. Details of the settlement were not immediately available.

As The Real Deal previously reported, the suit was brought by former employee Les Kramsky, who is Jewish. In the suit, Kramsky claims that Joseph Chetrit, the firm’s managing member and an Orthodox Jew, hired Kramsky because he thought Kramsky, too, was Orthodox, which is a strict interpretation of the religion.

When Joseph found out that Kramsky was not Orthodox, he fired him, according to the complaint.

In the suit, which lists Joseph as a defendant along with his brothers, and partners, Meyer, Juda, and Jacob, Kramsky also alleges that he was forced to pray at work.

“Following a pattern of religious discrimination, harassment and retaliation, [Kramsky] was terminated from his position on Jan. 20, 2010,” the complaint states. Kramsky was suing for $500,000 in lost wages and benefits, plus punitive damages.

Chetrit denied the charges in court filings. Kramsky’s religious beliefs “played no role in my decisions about hiring, probation or ultimate termination,” Joseph said in court documents.

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On Friday, a spokesperson for the Chetrit Group, who refused to give her name, chose not to comment on the settlement.

Jack Babchik, of Babchik and Young, of White Plains, N.Y., who is the Chetrits’ attorney, did not return a call seeking comment, nor did Walker Harman, Kramsky’s attorney.

Kramsky, a real estate attorney, was hired by Joseph as in-house general counsel in April 2009, the complaint states.

According to the complaint, Kramsky mentioned his son’s bar mitzvah while interviewing for the position. Kramsky later came to believe that this comment caused the Chetrits to think that he was an Orthodox Jew, and that “this was a main reason why he was hired,” the complaint says.

Kramsky’s suit also claims that he refused to represent the Chetrits in engaging in unethical activities, such as such as lying to a short-sale lender about the price of a property. He said they also wrote checks to themselves with company funds.

For his part, Chetrit denied that there was any religious favoritism going on, noting that the company’s office manager and other staff are not Jewish. He stated Kramsky was let go because he concluded that “it did not make economic sense to have a full-time ‘in-house’ attorney at Chetrit.”

Headquartered at 404 Fifth Avenue, the Chetrit Group is one of the city’s most active firms.

Recently, it purchased the Hotel Chelsea for $80 million, which signaled a new interest in the hospitality sector. The Chetrits also own a stake in Willis Tower, formerly known as Sears Tower, in Chicago.