Because they were traveling with several children, the families requested to wait off to the side and board the Brooklyn-bound ferry after the other passengers, according to the complaint. But when the families — who are not named — attempted to board, a staff member for NYC Ferry reportedly denied them “because there was a security issue.”
When the families probed further, a staffer for the commuter-ferry service reportedly said “security” had told her not to let them aboard. According to the complaint, two of the women in the group were wearing hijabs, in addition to other religious clothing, and had “pronounced accents.”
The group was escorted to security as other passengers watched from the vessel. The public fiasco humiliated the families, the complaint states — including some of the children, who began to cry because they could not board the ship.
As the situation escalated, an employee reportedly told the families they were denied boarding because the children were standing on the seats. The complainants believed this was an “after-the-fact false excuse” at the time, and NYC Ferry later admitted to them that the reasoning was false, the complaint reads.
The families were eventually able to take a ferry back to Bay Ridge, about two hours later.
NYC Ferry called the incident a “misunderstanding,” according to the complaint, and offered them reimbursement. But on behalf of the families, CAIR is seeking compensation for damages including “humiliation, embarrassment and severe emotional distress.”
In a statement, CAIR’s New York litigation director, Ahmed Mohamed, said the families involved were “humiliated and traumatized” because of their Muslim beliefs. The complaint states NYC Ferry staff “had reason to know” the families’ beliefs because of the clothing two of the women wore.
“All New Yorkers, regardless of creed, deserve equal and fair service free of discrimination, especially when using public transportation like the NYC Ferry,” Mohamed wrote. “These families were humiliated and traumatized in public view and treated as suspect because they happen to be Muslim. That is unacceptable. We hope the City will live up to its commitment of nondiscrimination and swiftly correct this injustice.”
New York City’s Economic Development Corporation, which operates NYC Ferry, said Thursday that the city was investigating the incident. In addition to the commuter-ferry service, the complaint also accuses New York City and the Economic Development Corporation of discrimination.
“Discrimination has no place in our city,” the organization said in a statement. “The City is investigating these allegations, and if they are proven true, will take swift and appropriate action to hold those responsible accountable.”
A spokesperson for the NYC Commission on Human Rights confirmed it had received the complaint but declined to provide additional comment.