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A federal jury on Monday awarded $100,000 to a former BellSouth employee who was fired months after he became a practicing Orthodox Jew. Jurors found that BellSouth illegally fired Jeffrey Bander after he filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission discrimination claim. Jurors rejected Bander’s harassment claim. “Now it’s a proven fact that BellSouth has a problem,” Bander said. “They can’t continue to do what they’re doing.” BellSouth had said Bander was fired because he didn’t follow proper procedures for taking time off. The company was considering an appeal. “We continue to maintain that the company acted properly,” said company spokesman Larry Strickler. A supervisor learned Bander was Jewish in January 1998 when his oldest son was killed by a drunk driver. Bander grew a beard as part of the mourning ritual, and began wearing a yarmulke and keeping kosher. Three months later, supervisor Tony Johnston told Bander to “lose the beard” and “you better not wear a yarmulke because the customers won’t like that,” according to the lawsuit. Another time, the suit alleged, Johnston told Bander, “I don’t think we can work together anymore. You people think you’re different from us. You think you’re better.” Bander was fired from his $106,000-a-year job as a sales representative and manager for BellSouth’s yellow pages in February 1999. He had worked seven years for the Atlanta-based communications company in central Florida. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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