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Jewish Fireman Adds to Claim of Discrimination

May 07, 1987|LARRY GORDON | Times Staff Writer

An Orthodox Jewish fireman who filed a $10-million religious-discrimination claim against the City of Glendale in January now alleges that the city unfairly forced him off his job last week because he refused to undergo examination by a department-appointed psychiatrist.

As a result, Michael Pomeranz on Monday filed an additional claim against the city, demanding reinstatement to his job as fire inspector and back pay.

Pomeranz, 33, a five-year veteran of the force, had taken a two-week medical leave in February because of what he claimed was mental stress caused by his fight with the city over his request to wear his yarmulke on duty and have all Saturdays off to observe the Jewish Sabbath.

Conditional Return

He returned to work, but city officials said his return was only conditional until he receives clearance from a psychiatrist.

Pomeranz's attorney, Mickey J. Wheatley, said the latest dispute marks another incident of harassment against Pomeranz.

"There is no other reasonable justification for it," Wheatley said. "It's hard to understand how he could be posing a danger to the city when he's been working there the past two months. It seems the danger is that he filed a grievance against them, and they'd rather not deal with him."

However, Assistant City Atty. Dennis H. Schuck said no city employee can return from medical leave without clearance from a physician. He said the requirement for a psychiatric examination has nothing to do with Pomeranz's $10-million claim.

"He may want to, out of desperation, tie the two together, but he was treated the same way any employee would be treated who was out for a prolonged illness," Schuck said. "The only thing that is keeping him from returning to his job is his own stubbornness."

Schuck said the city could not accept a clearance from Pomeranz's own psychiatrist because that doctor had not been properly informed about the nature of Pomeranz's job and because Pomeranz refused to provide further medical records. So, Schuck said, the city arranged a review by a psychiatrist it appointed. But Pomeranz refused to meet with that doctor last week.

The assistant city attorney said Pomeranz has displayed what officials fear may be erratic behavior.

"We need to be assured, in light of his conduct, that he is not a threat to himself or a hazard to the public," Schuck said.

According to Wheatley, Pomeranz is worried that any records from the city's psychiatrist could be used against him in his legal dispute, which could go to trial.

"Michael doesn't have a lot of trust in the people they are trying to send him to," Wheatley said. "His feeling is how can he talk about sensitive, intimate details of what he's feeling to people who are after him?"

Pomeranz could not be reached for comment. Wheatley described him as being "upset but certainly capable of performing the functions of his job now."

After he was ordered to not return to work unless he saw the psychiatrist, Pomeranz was allowed to use up his paid sick days, Schuck said. Pomeranz is not getting paid now and refuses to use vacation time.

Schuck said the city may review whether Pomeranz's actions constitute insubordination, which could lead to his dismissal.

Pomeranz's religious beliefs were strengthened in recent years after a visit to Israel and to concentration camps in Poland where his father survived Nazi brutality, attorneys said. He did not wear a skullcap to work until last year.

In his claim in January, Pomeranz said he was forced to give up his job as a firefighter last fall and become a non-uniformed inspector because his superiors made it difficult for him to observe the Sabbath and to wear his yarmulke while on duty.

He also alleges that co-workers and managers mocked his religious beliefs and caused him such mental anguish that he sought psychiatric care.

The city, however, says the job switch was made to help Pomeranz observe his religion while meeting the department's manpower needs.

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