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Rabbi Steven Lawrence was formerly employed by Empire Kosher Poultry, Inc. , a slaughterhouse under the kosher supervision of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America .

Rabbi Lawrence filed suit against Kehilah Kashrus, Inc., claiming that Kehilah -- a non-profit rabbinical organization which ensures that the preparation of kosher foods conforms with Jewish law -- had caused Empire to terminate his employment by threatening a boycott of Empire's stores. After motion practice, the New York County Supreme Court denied Kehilah's prayer to end the Rabbi's case. On appeal, the Appellate Division, First Department, reversed and dismissed the action as against Kehilah in its entirety.

Since the Rabbi was an employee-at-will, an extremely high threshold was necessary to support a "tortious interference" claim. As the Court observed:

In order to recover damages for interference with existing economic relations in a non-binding relationship, a "defendant's conduct must amount to a crime or an independent tort" ... A sole exception to this general rule has been recognized where a defendant has engaged in conduct "for the sole purpose of inflicting intentional harm on plaintiff[]"....

No issue of fact is raised as to whether Kehilah's conduct was either criminal or independently tortious. Indeed, the record is devoid of any evidence that Kehilah wrongfully interfered with plaintiff's employment, or that it acted for the sole purpose of inflicting harm. Plaintiff conceded at his deposition that Kehilah had made no false accusations against him. In addition, plaintiff admitted he did not know what Kehilah's motivation was in opposing his employment. Further, neither the memo from Kehilah sent to all meat establishments directing them to cease carrying Empire products, nor its letter to the rabbinic administrator of defendant, advising that it was pleased to hear a new head supervising rabbi had been appointed, refers to plaintiff directly or indirectly.

Without evidence of conduct amounting to "extreme and unfair economic pressure," and faced with "uncontradicted documentation" that the Rabbi had been placed on a 60-day probation, due to his "deficient management skills" and lack of "requisite technical skills for the job," the court concluded that the dismissal was kosher under the circumstances.

(Note: This blog entry was written without rabbinic supervision.)

For a copy of the Appellate Division's decision, please use this link: Lawrence v. Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America