Hillal Assi, 21, of Kfar Bara, started working at the shoe store six months ago. When the chain's deputy manager joined Assi's branch two weeks ago, a conversation between the two immediately led to discussions about his use of Arabic.
"That day I was supposed to finish my shift early. I asked my co-worker who was supposed to replace me why she had been late in Arabic. The deputy manager overheard me and told me to stop speaking Arabic," said Assi.
When Assi asked the deputy manager why he cannot speak his language, he was told: "Don't speak Arabic, we have customers."
Following his conversation with the deputy manager, Assi went to the store's storeroom and asked his co-worker again in Arabic why she had been late.
Overhearing the conversation, the deputy manager accused assi of not respecting him since he had already asked him three times before to cease to converse in Arabic.
When Assi replied that he had spoken Arabic in the storeroom and not next to the customers, the deputy manager said he "can't speak Arabic in any part of the store's premises."
A few days after the incident, Assi was informed that he was being fired. Hurt and offended by the chain's management, he approached the branch's manager about his dismissal. "I was fired because I had spoken Arabic in the store," Assi complained in a recorded conversation.
In the recording, the branch's manager can be heard defending the decision to fire Assi.
"He asked you to stop speaking and you continued to do so. You should have started speaking only Hebrew after the deputy manager yelled at you," the branch manager said.
"The minute he told you off, you should have learned your lesson. When I am yelled at, I immediately understand and say it won't happen again," she went on to say.
Assi also appealed to his supervisor to protest the decision. "He doesn't want the employees to speak Arabic in front of Jewish customers since customers have been complaining," the supervisor can be heard saying in the recorded conversation.
However, the supervisor also says in the recording that Assi's use of Arabic was not the reason behind his dismissal.
"Your dismissal has nothing to do with you speaking Arabic. It's because all the time you spent outside the store," Assi was told.
The laid off employee, nevertheless said that he resented the decision to fire him. "I was so offended by their behavior. The deputy manager's demand that I don't speak Arabic is discriminative and racist.
"Arabic is an official language and not a foreign one. All of Israel's citizens have to respect it as we respect other languages," he went on to say.
The chain's deputy manager denied Assi's accusations, insisting that his claim was completely false and detached from reality.
The shoe store chain also issued a statement on the incident. "The chain prides itself on hiring hundreds of employees from all ethnic group, religions and sectors of Israeli society, and acts in accordance with fair and strict procedures, thoroughly reviewing each and every report of incidents such as these," the statement read. "Every case is resolved based on purely professional considerations."
After the complaint was made, it continued, "a comprehensive and thorough inquiry was launched. Any attempt to claim for discrimination is baseless and defamatory. We firecely reject any accusation of racist behavior."