A state official on Wednesday filed a petition with labor court on behalf of 21 Israeli Arabs who were laid off by the Kimat Hinam market chain, citing fears that the dismissals were carried out as part of a discriminatory procedure.

Attorney Tziona Koenig-Yair, Equal Opportunities Commissioner for the Labor, Trade and Industry Ministry, asked the court to overrule Kimat Hinam's decision to fire these employees from its branch in Modi'in.

"Suspicion that the dismissals were carried out with nationalist motives obligates the commissioner, as the body responsible for civil enforcement of labor laws, to carry out a deep inspection into the matter," Koenig-Yair wrote in her petition to the court.

"Legislation unilaterally forbids discrimination of any kind," she added.

Employees had brought the matter to the commissioner's attention last weekend. The chain had not even informed the laid-off workers of its decision directly, but rather had another employee bring the letters of dismissal to the workers' homes on Friday night.

The laid-off workers, many of whom relied on the job to support their families, said they had received no prior indication from the company regarding their imminent dismissal.

Kimat Hinam defended its decision, claiming that the employees in question had demonstrated '"violent behavior" against management and clients. The employees had committed "disciplinary and criminal infractions" that left other employees and managers at the branch feeling "significant concern for their lives and bodies".

The company added that it had in its employment 496 Israeli Arabs, some 23 percent of the chain's payroll. "A company hat employees about a quarter of its workers from the Arab sector cannot be considered a company in which discrimination prevails," said Kimat Hinam in a statement. It also said that a number of Israeli Arabs were still employed at its Modi'in branch, as they did not take part in the allegedly violent behavior of the group in question.