Morton Klein, president of right-wing pro-Israel Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), has been hit with a lawsuit alleging racist, sexist and bullying behavior.
John Rosen, 62, is suing the non-profit and Klein, as well as former Trump lawyer and ZOA board chair David Schoen, for $1.2 million in damages.
Rosen, a former executive vice-president at ZOA, alleges he was retaliated against after filing a whistleblower complaint in Feb 2022 that detailed Klein’s racist and sexist behavior.
In the suit, Rosen alleges that under Klein’s leadership, the ZOA was “rife with dysfunction and impropriety.” 76-year-old Klein, he claims, ran the non-profit as his “personal fiefdom” and created a “toxic work environment.” The lawsuit describes Klein as a man with a “volatile temper, mixed with wildly inappropriate comments—smacking of racism and misogyny.”
Founded in 1897, ZOA is a hard-right pro-Israel advocacy organization. The group threw its weight behind President Donald Trump in 2016, supporting his efforts to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and hosting Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer and Sebastian Gorka at its events.
Last year, Klein described Trump as the “best friend Israel ever had in the White House,” and awarded him the Theodor Herzl Medallion, ZOA’s highest honor.
(After Trump had dinner with Ye, and openly anti-Semitic white nationalist Nick Fuentes, at Mar-a-Lago in Dec, 2022, Klein told the The New Yorker he was worried Trump “legitimizes Jew-hatred and Jew-haters,” but maintained “Donald Trump is not an antisemite.”)
Klein, a vociferous supporter of Israel, has long been known for his controversial public comments. But Rosen’s new suit gives insight into the chaos his alleged actions unleashed inside ZOA.
For example, Klein was accused of racism when criticized the Black Lives Matter Movement in a series of tweets following the murder of George Floyd in June 2020, describing the groups as “dangerous Soros-funded extremist group of haters.”
Angry at the criticism, Klein then called ZOA’s director of marketing and demanded the numbers of two Black female employees and one Black former employee, according to the suit. Klein said he wanted public “statements” from the Black employees that he was not racist, which he planned to publish alongside their photograph, the suit says.
Klein went on to call one Black female employee and ask her for a statement, which she declined to give, the suit claims. The same woman later overheard Klein saying at a party that more white men should be hired, according to the suit.
The employee complained to Rosen, the suit says, who then raised it with Klein who became “infuriated” and said he no longer wanted to see her “ugly fat face.”
In 2019, Klein refused to hire a female candidate for a job at ZOA “would distract the staff as she was too physically attractive,” according to the suit. After hiring the “less physically attractive” candidate, Klein later told her that a previous allegation of sexual harassment against him by a past job candidate was untrue because the woman was “overweight” and “too ugly” to be harrassed.
The following year Klein said he thought workplace anti-discrimination trainings were “being forced on us by the left” and were “total rubbish,” the suit claims.
Rosen also accuses Klein of violating labor law. On one occasion, Klein criticized an employee with cancer for taking time off work, asking whether she was “comatose,” the suit says. When another employee asked for expanded maternity benefits, Klein said she could “go to hell,” according to the suit.
Rosen complained to the ZOA board about Klein’s behavior and an outside lawyer was hired to investigate, according to the suit. But when a draft report was filed, Tyler Korn, one of ZOA’s board of directors, felt it was “too critical of Klein,” the suit says.
David Schoen, a lawyer who represented former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment proceedings, joined ZOA’s board in 2021. Rosen sent Schoen an 229-page whistleblower complaint detailing Klein’s behavior in Feb, 2022, according to his suit.
Rosen says he then faced “a sustained campaign of retaliation” by Klein, Schoen and the ZOA, which ended with him being terminated for “poor performance” in August 2022.
Schoen says that he received Rosen’s complaint, and followed the “whistleblower policy.”
“[Rosen] apparently wasn’t satisfied with the pace of the investigation that was underway,” Schoen said in a statement to The Daily Beast on Thursday. He said a lawyer requested by Rosen investigated the complaint.
“The Executive Committee then voted unanimously to terminate Mr. Rosen based on the findings and conclusions of the lawyer who Mr. Rosen selected to investigate his complaints. At all times instructions were given that there was to be no retaliation against Mr. Rosen for making complaints and that there would be a full and fair investigation,” Schoen said.
(Rosen originally filed a similar lawsuit against Klein, Schoen and the ZOA in Nov 2022. It was dismissed on the grounds that New Jersey law did not apply, Rosen’s lawyer Alexander Sakin, told The Daily Beast. The new lawsuit is filed under New York law, he said.)
“John was not fired from ZOA as a result of any performance issues,” Sakin wrote in an email to The Daily Beast of Thursday, “John was terminated in retaliation for standing up against what he rightly viewed as serious dysfunction at ZOA, including unchecked violations of employment laws, as well as the ZOA Board of Directors’ failure to provide sufficient oversight over the organization’s operations and management.”