Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Fired immigrant employees sue JVS of Kansas City – claim agency scapegoated them

Posted by Christopher Coen on December 5, 2011

Almost two years now after the Kansas City Star – and the Pitch a year earlier – published accounts about Jewish Vocational Service of Kansas City (JVS) placing refugees in substandard housing (here and here), comes word that three former employees of the agency are suing, claiming they were blamed for their supervisor’s bad decisions. The three are suing for discrimination due to their race, skin color and national origin, claiming that their supervisor, Deborah Fiene, who was in charge of housing, scapegoated them for her own poor decisions in placing refugees in extremely substandard and unsanitary housing. The three claim that JVS fired them due to “unsatisfactory job performance” yet they all had received positive evaluations and each promoted less than a year earlier. They claim in their suit papers that Feine was never punished despite evidence of impropriety on her job performance. They also claim that the agency rifled through their desks and stole personal documents, including citizenship papers, while later arguing in court papers that the agency was exempt from the lawsuit because it was a religious organisation. A Kenyen newspaper (one of the accusers originates from Kenya), The Standard, has the story:

A Kenyan US based journalist and two other African immigrants have gone to court and sued a Jewish organisation in the US for racial discrimination.

Peter Makori, a resident of Kansas City who originally hails from Kisii in Kenya and Abdi Murasaal and Bakar Abdalla from Somalia have sued Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) of Kansas City for damages claiming they were dismissed from their employment because their boss, of Caucasian origin (white) discriminated against them due to their race, skin colour and national origins.

The three, through their lawyer, Brian Barjenbruch complained in their suit papers filed in the circuit court of Kansas City Missouri, that a white female employee who was herself not punished committed the mistakes that led to their dismissal from work…

…Makori and Abdallah worked as refugee resettlement case managers at the JVS, while Mursaal was their general manager at the organisation’s Centre for New Americans.

They are seeking…compensation for unfairly losing their jobs and other inconveniences. They claim in their suit papers the fact that their colleague who is white was never punished despite evidence of impropriety on her job performance showed that they were victims of racial discrimination.

The centre works with the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) – a body that is contracted by the US State Department for Homeland Security – to bring refugees to America from turbulent regions around the world….

…The former JVS employees have claimed that their colleague, Deborah Fiene, who was in charge of housing, had allegedly placed refugees in dirty and sub-standard housing, which contravened the regulations of the State Department and USCRI. Despite this, she was not punished but the boss used the three as her scapegoat and summarily sacked them.

They claimed that their complaints against Fiene to the organisation’s executive director, who is also white, that the housing coordinator was putting refugees in poor housing, were dismissed…

…Makori…claimed in his suit papers that a few days preceding his dismissal, his desk at work was ransacked and numerous documents taken away…

…Bakar claimed in his suit papers that his desk was ransacked and several documents, including his citizen’s certificate, which was in his drawers lost. Abdi claimed that the management had ransacked his desk and several documents taken away.

They pointed out their employer had accused them in their dismissal letters that they were sacked because of “unsatisfactory job performance” yet they all had received positive evaluation and each promoted less than a year earlier… Read more here

The case involved more than JVS simply placing refugees in wretched housing. Newspaper accounts reported that refugees were left on their own for medical appointments, and that JVS failed to give a refugee family all sorts of minimum-required household items, while documenting that it had done so.

2 Responses to “Fired immigrant employees sue JVS of Kansas City – claim agency scapegoated them”

  1. Wayne Myers said

    My wife and I have been working with the Karen refugees in KCMO for two years. Nothing has changed with JVS they still put refugees in terrible housing conditions, they do not explain the lease arrangements with them. We have several families that face legal action now because they did not understand that they could not just break a lease and move. Also they take all Karen refugees to Bank of America to open bank accounts, without explaining anything about checking accounts, balancing a check book, etc. (my wife and I have done this). Most Karen refugees especially adults are left to take care of themselves too soon, very short or no English classes at all. Lack of helping to find jobs, do not explain WIC program with lots of families having months of expired unused WIC coupons due to lack of no knowing what to do or to do it. JVS is a waste of time for the Karen refugees, we have close to 40 families that we work with, taking to medical appointment, helping with WIC, TANF, Food stamps, Medicaid and any other needs to include transportation to appointments, even lighting their furnaces in the winter. We do this for free and do not work for any group…it is out of compassion and love for the Karen refugees…something that should be a requirement for anyone working with refugees no matter where they come from….

    • Thank you for updating us on the conditions at JVS of Kansas City. Resettlement agencies having refugees sign leases with no interpreter present is not acceptable, and unfortunately not uncommon.

      I’ve noticed that after the State Department does their once in ten year inspection, or after the local media reveal irresponsible or inept resettlement services, that the abuses often persist. I think the program would benefit from a procedure practiced by other federal agencies — requiring contractors to give back money for at least minimum-required material items not given to the refugees, or services not performed to at least the minimum-accepted standard. Contractors do better when there are consequences. The other problem is that minimum-standards are too minimal, e.g. there is no requirement for assistance in opening a banking account (see Operational Guidance to Resettlement Agencies, #4 in Links section at bottom of left column).

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