Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Case Against Burton L. Hirsch Funeral Home (Pittsburg, PA)

Women sue funeral homes for harassment
They also claim economic bias against Jews
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
By Steve Levin

During the past two years at the Burton L. Hirsch Funeral Home in Squirrel Hill, male employees sexually harassed their female co-workers, held alcohol-fueled parties, charged higher funeral service prices to Jewish families and did not observe Jewish ritual funeral practices, according to a civil complaint filed yesterday in U.S. District Court.

The lawsuit, filed in the court's Western District of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh, also names H.P. Brandt Funeral Home in Ross, H. Samson Funeral Home in Oakland, a Harrisburg funeral home and the parent company of all four, Alderwoods Group. It alleges that licensed female employees were paid less than unlicensed male employees and that an unnamed male employee at Brandt abused the corpses of men and women.

Officials with Cincinnati-based Alderwoods, one of the largest operators of funeral homes and cemeteries in North America, did not respond yesterday to interview requests.

Charles H. Saul of the Downtown law firm Margolis Edelstein, one of two attorneys filing the lawsuit on behalf of (Name Removed) of Shadyside and (Name Removed) of Greensburg, declined comment.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, comes almost a year after Ms. (Survivor #1) filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Alderwoods, alleging religious harassment and discrimination. Because of delays in hearing that claim, and two filed earlier by Ms. (survivor #2), the EEOC issued a "right-to-sue" letter for both women, leading to yesterday's lawsuit.

In March 2005, Harrisburg-area rabbis published a letter in the local Jewish newspaper recommending the Jewish community stop using an Alderwoods-owned funeral home. The switch, after 53 years with the same funeral home, was made after the rabbis urged people to "re-examine the manner in which funeral services are provided."

One of the basic principles of Jewish funeral arrangements is "
kavod hamet," or honor for the deceased.

After complaints about practices at Hirsch circulated in the Pittsburgh Jewish community last fall, Alderwoods issued an open letter about that funeral home. The letter stated that "our policies and procedures with regards to respecting the Jewish faith remain unchanged. [Hirsch] provides services in a manner that is fully compliant with Jewish laws."

But according to the lawsuit, Michael Hilgefort, funeral director at Hirsch, ordered the removal of prayer shawls from the corpses of Jewish men before burial, without their families' consent, in order "to re-use them on other bodies," an action that contravenes Jewish custom and tradition.

The lawsuit claims the funeral home not only charged Jewish families for services not rendered, but also charged them higher prices than non-Jews for such services as preparation of bodies, transportation and the forwarding of bodies to other funeral homes.

For example, according to 2005 Alderwoods Group "Funeral Planning Guides" for the Brandt and Hirsch funeral homes, the cost of forwarding remains to another funeral home is $1,165 higher at Hirsch.

In 2005, Hirsch, which conducts about 100 Jewish funerals annually and advertises itself as Squirrel Hill's only Jewish funeral home, charged $350 for dressing the body, placing it in the casket and cosmetology. The same service at Brandt cost $200. An on-premise memorial service at Hirsch cost $160 more than at Brandt, and an off-premise service cost $185 more at Hirsch.

Alderwoods owns 579 funeral homes, 72 cemeteries and 61 combination funeral homes and cemeteries. It has 8,300 employees and 2005 revenues of about $182 million.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to CBS station KDKA, they were also passing off treif food as kosher and removing talleisim from dead bodies before burial because they thought it's ridiculous.

November 13, 2006 1:01 PM  

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