New York City sues Orthodox shops over dress codes

February 28, 2013

The New York City Commission on Human Rights is suing ultra-Orthodox Jewish business owners in Brooklyn because they posted signs calling on customers to dress modestly in their stores.

The commission said the owners, whose businesses are located in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, violated human rights law with signs that read: “No shorts, no barefoot, no sleeveless, no low-cut neckline allowed in this store.”

Ultra-Orthodox Jews practice a strict form of Judaism; men, women and older children are expected to wear clothes that cover their arms, legs and necklines.

Clifford Mulqueen, deputy commissioner and general counsel to the Human Rights Commission, told the Haaretz newspaper in Israel that the signs “are pretty specific to women. It seems pretty clear that it’s geared toward women dressing modestly if they choose to come into the store, and that would be discrimination.”

The seven business owners deny the charges.

Marc Stern, associate general counsel at the American Jewish Committee, told Religion News Service that the commission’s suit appears to unfairly single out Hasidic Jews.

“What’s disturbing about the action is that gender-specific dress codes are a common phenomenon at upscale restaurants and clubs. It’s at least perplexing and maybe worse that the only type of code that the commission has challenged are those that seem to have a religious basis, even though they’re gender neutral.”

Devora Allon, the attorney representing the businessmen, insisted that the signs “are gender neutral, they do not discriminate and there is no discriminatory intent. I believe the commission’s claims have no merit.”

Allon said that “no customer has ever been denied service at the stores on the basis of how he or she dressed.”

A pre-trial conference is scheduled for March 12.

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