A Jerusalem judge on Wednesday described the behavior of Sara Netanyahu, wife of the prime minister, as harmful and abusive, in a verdict upholding a civil suit by the former chief caretaker of the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem.
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Judge Dita Pruginin of the Jerusalem Labor Court ruled that the Netanyahu couple had violated the employee rights of Meni Naftali, the former caretaker, and awarded him 170,000 shekels in damages.
In a press conference on Wednesday evening, Naftali's lawyer Naomi Landau called the court's decision "historic justice," and said that Sara Netanyahu was an "employer who abused her employees, as if they were [her] property."
In her verdict, the judge accepted Naftali's claim that he had been subjected to intolerable employment conditions while at the prime minister's residence and was entitled to compensation.
"The court had before it many testimonies indicating that the conditions of employment in the residence were harmful due to the behavior of Mrs. Netanyahu and her attitude to the employees," the judge wrote in a summary of her verdict.
"Those included exaggerated demands, insults, humiliation and outburst of anger. The employees were required to work long and exceptional hours.
"For those reasons, the staff turnover in the prime minister's residence was high and it suffered from a chronic shortage of personnel. Being a special and sophisticated place of employment does not justify harmful work conditions."
The Netanyahu family responded that "the picture that emerges from the ruling is far from the reality at the prime minister's residence."
"It's a sad fact that although the court rejected some 90 percent of Meni Naftali's financial claims, the court decided to devote a significant portion of its decision to Mrs. Netanyahu, who wasn't even a side in the trial," it added. "Naftali didn’t sue Mrs. Netanyahu, but the State of Israel, and thereby slandered and discredited the prime minister's wife."
"Many employees in the prime minister's residence," the Netanyahus' response said," attest to the excellent, warm and humane treatment that they receive from the prime minister's wife, and that they never came across a raised voice or an insulting attitude. 'My relations with Sara Netanyahu are like those of a mother and son. She treats me like a son,' one of them said today."
The judge rejected the state's argument that Naftali was a not a "lowly" worker and that it was thus impossible to describe his employment as harmful.
She ruled that there was no connection between the status of an employee, his salary and profession, and his right to a work environment that was dignified and not abusive. From the evidence presented to the court, she added, the complainant had indeed suffered from harmful work conditions.
The judge also rejected the defense argument that the complainant had not complained about his harmful work conditions and had not brought them to the notice of his superiors, a fact that should prevent him from complaining subsequently, it said.
She ruled that the complainant had indeed complained about his work conditions while working in the residence. Beside which, she said, the absence of a complaint does not prevent one being lodged at a later stage.
Naftali was awarded 80,000 shekels compensation for emotional distress, to be paid by the state, which, she said, had the responsibility as employer to ensure the wellbeing of its employees and to provide them with a respectful workplace.
That responsibility she said, is inherent in the employment contract between employer and employee, which is incumbent on both sides to implement in good faith, and in the rights ensured in the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.
Naftali's contention that he was misled into believing that he would receive tenure in the residence was also accepted by the court.
"The complainant knew that he was employed as a replacement and would have to compete in a tender in order to get full-time employment as chief caretaker, but no one told him that there would not be a tender for the position and that, even if a tender was issued, he would be unable to compete due to his lack of academic qualifications," the judge ruled.
She found that the state had violated the provisions of employment law and awarded Naftali an additional 75,000 shekels in damages. The state was also ordered to cover Naftali's trial costs of 15,000 shekels.
Naftali's claim that he had been libeled by the prime minister in a TV interview was dismissed by the court.