El Al faces gender discrimination suit

El Al  photo: Moshe Shai

A female passenger told the "New York Times" she is suing the airline for telling her to move seat to accommodate an ultra-Orthodox male passenger.

An 81-year-old Jerusalem woman, Adv. Renee Rabinowitz, a retired lawyer, is suing El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. (TASE: ELAL) in the Tel Aviv Magistrates court this week for gender discrimination. She claims she was forced to move seats because an ultra-Orthodox man refused to sit next to her, the "New York Times" reports.

Rabinowitz told the "New York Times" "For me this is not personal. It is intellectual, ideological and legal. I think to myself, here I am, an older woman, educated, I've been around the world, and some guy can decide that I shouldn't sit next to him. Why?"

the incident took place on El Al Flight 028 from Newark, New Jersey to Ben Gurion Airport last December. She was already settled in her aisle seat when a man assigned the window seat next to her appeared before takeoff and refused to sit next to a woman. A flight attendant offered Rabinowitz, who walks with a cane due to pains in her knees, a "better" seat nearer first class, to accommodate the man's religious beliefs. She asked if she was being moved because of the ultra-Orthodox passenger's protests and the flight attendant answered "yes" without hesitation.

When she subsequently returned to her original seat to collect her hand baggage she said she asked the man why it mattered "after all I'm 81" and he replied, "It's the Torah,' she said he told her.

The flight attendant treated me as if I was stupid, Rabnowitz said, but thats a common problem in Israel if you dont speak Hebrew. They assume things about you. They assume they can put one over you.

Although there have been many such incidents in the past, this latest episode exposed by the "New York Times" is likely to hurt El Al's public relations campaign with target customers living in the Greater New York and other metropolitan areas. There are 1.1 million Jews in New York City alone.

Rabinowitz is being represented by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) for Reform Judaism in Israel. IRAC director Anat Hoffman told the "New York Times" We needed a case of a flight attendant being actively involved, explained the groups director, Anat Hoffman, to show that El Al has internalized the commandment, I cannot sit next to a woman.

El Al said, "Any discrimination between passengers is strictly prohibited. El Al flight attendants are on the front line of providing service for the companys varied array of passengers. In the cabin, the attendants receive different and varied requests and they try to assist as much as possible, the goal being to have the plane take off on time and for all the passengers to arrive at their destination as scheduled.

Rabinowitz who has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology attended a lecture given by Hoffman several weeks after the flight. When I told Anat that the flight attendant had asked me to move, she got very excited, recounted Rabinowitz who immigrated to Israel 10 years ago.

Born in Belgium, she fled Europe during the Nazi occupation and received an Orthodox religious education in New York where she was required to dress with strict modesty. Both her first husband from whom she was divorced in 1986, and her second husband who died three years ago were rabbis. One of her grandchildren is ultra-Orthodox. The idea of having a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) population is wonderful, as long as they dont tell me what to do, she said.

A lawyer for the religious action group wrote a letter to El Al last month," the "New York Times" reported, "saying that Ms. Rabinowitz had felt pressured by the attendant and accusing El Al of illegal discrimination. It argued that a request not to be seated next to a woman differed from other requests to move, say, to sit near a relative or a friend, because it was by nature degrading. The lawyer demanded 50,000 shekels, about $13,000, in compensation for Ms. Rabinowitz."

In response, El Al offered a $200 discount off her next flight.

Rabinowitz quoted eminent Orthodox scholar, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who ruled that it was acceptable for a Jewish man to sit next to a woman on a subway or a bus so long as there was no intention to seek sexual pleasure from any incidental contact.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on February 28, 2016

Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2016

El Al  photo: Moshe Shai
El Al photo: Moshe Shai
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