Members of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith said at a news conference yesterday that D.C. Council member Nadine Winter refused an employe's request for leave to observe Jewish religious holidays and later fired the woman after she contacted the league to complain.
But Winter said the employe, a legal assistant named Terri Gross, had worked for her since March and had been away from work for a variety of reasons, exhausting her allowable leave.
"I have a strict policy not to give leave you don't have," said Winter, who noted she would have refused Gross' leave request for any reason except a family emergency.
"I like her. She had great potential," said Winter, but "she has no interest in her job. I was trying my best to allow her to grow into the job. People get mad at me and leave because I work them too hard. What they can't say is I'm unfair."
At the news conference, held at the B'nai B'rith headquarters at 1640 Rhode Island Ave. NW, Gross said she would have accepted leave without pay so that she could spend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, tomorrow and Friday, with relatives in New York. She said she contacted the league Sept. 18 and was notified by Winter three days later that she would be terminated.
Late yesterday, Gross, 29, said when she returned to her office after the news conference Winter had placed her on administrative leave, pending her termination Oct. 5. The council member could not be reached for further comment.
"It is our plan to explore the legal remedies available . . . " Edward R. Levin, head of the league's Law and Discrimination Committee, said at the news conference. "The possibilities are a charge of discrimination before the D.C. Office of Human Rights or litigation in federal court.
Council rules give individual council members authority over their staffs. Council employes earn four hours of leave for every two weeks' pay period. According to council leave records, Gross had no earned leave remaining.
In a memo dated Sept. 18, copies of which were passed out at the news conference, Winter told Gross, who is a lawyer, that she would be terminated on Oct. 5 because of "staff reassignments."
While Gross is not the only Jewish member of Winter's staff, Levin said it seems she is the only person who requested leave for the holidays. Winter said that Gross had refused to attend several constituent service meetings in the ward and recently left work without advance notice.
Winter also showed a reporter an office calendar kept by staff members who are asked to request leave six months ahead of time. Winter said Gross did not plan in advance to be off. Staff writer Tom Sherwood contributed to this report.