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A former employee of Kingston, New York, a family-owned health food store was arrested on Friday for repeatedly harassing a Jewish co-worker, including an incident where he allegedly shut off the lights and told her “You’re in the gas chamber.”
William Sullivan was working in the produce department of Mother Earth’s Storehouse earlier this month when the alleged anti-semitic verbal attacks began against Sarah Shabanowitz, a Jewish woman, who was working in the same section.
“Last week, on March 11, I was in the cooler getting items to stock on the floor. One of my colleagues, Will Sullivan, was standing outside the cooler. He said to me: ‘now we’re going to put you in the gas chamber,’ and turned off the light,” Shabanowitz wrote in a statement issued on Friday. “I was horrified. When he saw my look of shock, he said: ‘yeah, you f—ing Jew.’”
The 18-year-old college student reported Sullivan to her manager, but after Sullivan remained at the Kings Mall Court location for the rest of his shift, Shabanowitz didn’t “feel safe,” she wrote.
The following day, Shabanowitz was moved to another department, but the harassment didn’t stop.
“Will then found me and started yelling at me for making him look bad. I reported to management that Will was harassing and retaliating against me for making a complaint. I was so upset that I left work early,” she wrote.
Shabanowitz said her store manager turned on her and allegedly admitted to dismissing Sullivan’s statements as “a joke” and was told to “either quit your job or do the register.”
“Mother Earth’s response was a perfect example of how not to respond to a complaint of workplace harassment,” said Ilann M. Maazel, an attorney for Shabanowitz, in a statement to ABC News on Friday. “They did nothing to keep Sarah safe. They belittled anti-Semitism in the workplace and told Sarah to keep quiet. The problem at Mother Earth is not just the employee; it is management.”
After leaving the store in tears, Shabanowitz told her mother, who posted about the her daughter’s situation on Facebook on March 15.
A representative from Mother Earth’s issued a statement on their Facebook page announcing that Sullivan was fired on March 16 and denounced the hate speech. On Monday, the company also announced revamping their company’s practices and hiring a human resources company “to help us with any future situation that could occur.”
Sullivan, 21, of Saugerties, was arrested Friday and charged with aggravated harassment, part of what Acting State Police Superintendent Keith Corlett called “a disturbing trend of increase in hate crimes.”
Gov. Cuomo echoed the sentiment.
“This is not an isolated situation,” Cuomo said. “We have been seeing a growing number of anti-Semitic activities. This is something everyone must be concerned about.”
Sullivan was issued an appearance ticket and released. He is scheduled to appear in court on March 26.