The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Volokh Conspiracy

Being Called a "Putz" Isn't a Sign of Hostility Against Jews—It's a Sign of Hostility by Jews

(Not necessarily religiously discriminatory hostility, of course.)


From yesterday's California Court of Appeal decision in Vogelgesang v. Anaheim Ducks Hockey Club, LLC:

In addition to the claims relating to retaliation for raising the safety issues, Vogelgesang alleged he was discriminated against and subject to a hostile work environment based on his Jewish heritage…. The basis for this assertion was later determined to be a single incident where Schneider, defendants' general counsel, referred to Vogelgesang as a "'putz'" in an email. The arbitrator eventually concluded this claim was baseless:

"The single email itself does not reflect any discrimination against [Vogelgesang] based on his religious background. [Citation.] Nor was there any credible evidence that any of the [defendants] discriminated against [Vogelgesang] or other employees based on their religious beliefs or background. It is hardly credible that [defendants] would have a policy or practice of discriminating on the basis of an employee's Jewish background, when the Samuelis are not only Jewish but are active supporters of Jewish religious causes."

I think it's possible for people to discriminate against members of their own group, including their own religious group. (For instance, if a Jewish employer retaliates against a Jewish employee for eating pork at work, but doesn't do the same for non-Jewish employees who do the same, that is discrimination.) But certainly calling someone a "putz" doesn't show hostility against their being Jewish; "putz," like "schmuck" or "schlemiel" or various other such words, is a Yiddish insult, and is thus disproportionately used by Jews, but it doesn't suggest that the person being insulted is Jewish.

Terms used by a group that specifically condemn fellow certain members for the group do exist—see, e.g., "Oreo" among some blacks, or more generally versions of "traitor to the race," or "shanda for the goyim," which is used by Jews to refer to Jews who are seen as shaming Jews as a group, especially by confirming some people's negative assumptions by Jews—but "putz" just isn't one of them.