Brooklyn, NY - NYC Sues Williamsburg Stores Over Tznius Signs
Brooklyn, NY - A group of storeowners in Williamsburg will be meeting with attorneys next month at a pre-trial meeting, after have been slapped with a lawsuit by the New York City Commission on Human Rights alleging that the stores’ policies of requiring customers to dress modestly is a violation of the human rights laws that prevent discrimination.
Seven stores, all located on Lee Avenue between Williamsburg Street East and Penn Street, were named in the complaint which was filed last August. Friedman’s Depot, Tiv Tov Hardware, Sander’s Bakers, Lee Avenue Clothing Center, Gestetner Printing, Greenfield’s Foods and Imperial Luggage all have signs in their windows advising patrons wearing shorts, sleeveless tops and low cut necklines that they would not be permitted inside and that barefoot customers would also be banned.
“There is no legal basis to this claim,” Devora Allon, an associate at Kirkland & Ellis, which represents the business owners, told VIN News. “No one has ever not been served because of these signs and discrimination would only apply if the signs were only enforced against women, but they address both men and women.”
According to reports on Israeli (http://bit.ly/X9lCsU) news source Haaretz, the signs, which are virtually identical, began appearing in store windows in 2011 and 2012.
VIN News obtained copies of all seven complaints filed against the storeowners from the CCHR.
According to the complaint, a CCHR employee visited the stores on July 24, 2012 and observed signs on the store windows stating “No shorts, no barefoot, no sleeveless, no low cut neckline allowed in this store,” and determined that it was a violation of the Section 8-107(4)(1) of the Administrative Code of the City of New York as it “expressly intended to deny patrons the advantages, facilities and/or privileges of a public accommodation based upon their gender and creed.”
In an interview Friday with VIN News, CCHR Deputy Commissioner/General Counsel Clifford Mulqueen said he could not recall the source of the original complaint that prompted his agency to take the action.
“The signs were brought to our attention by someone in the community, I don’t recall who,” said Mulqueen. “It could have been an email, a phone call or something on the internet. I don’t actually remember.”
Mulqueen said that to the best of his knowledge these seven stores were the only ones in the area which had the dress code signs posted and further differentiated between those signs and others found in locations that refuse entry to customers who are shoeless and shirtless.
“There is nothing wrong with a dress code, per se,” explained Mulqueen. “But there is something wrong with a public accommodation trying to impose its religious beliefs on other people.”
A pre-trial conference will be taking place on March 12th. Ms. Allon says she expects that there will be a mediation effort on that date but should those attempts fail, the store owners are ready to take their case to trial.
Kirkland & Ellis is representing the businesses on a pro bono basis.
“We are taking this very seriously,” explained Ms. Allon. “There are religious rights at stake here.”
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