El Al Found Guilty Of Discrimination For Reseating Woman To Accommodate Male Passenger

Israel’s national carrier, El Al, can no longer accede to the requests of ultra-Orthodox passengers to not to sit next to women, a Jerusalem court said Wednesday in a landmark ruling.

“Under absolutely no circumstances can a crew member ask a passenger to move from their designated seat because the adjacent passenger doesn’t wasn’t to sit next to them due to their gender,” Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Dana Cohen-Lekah said in her ruling. “The policy is a direct transgression of the law preventing discrimination.”

El Al has been known to regularly ask passengers to move seats at the request and sometimes demand of ultra-Orthodox men who refuse to sit next to women. Wednesday’s ruling ends years of uproar over the policy led by rights groups who say it is discriminatory.

Cohen-Lekah agreed with the Israel Religious Action Center, which brought the suit, in ruling the practice was illegal.

The chief plaintiff in the case was 81-year old Holocaust survivor Renee Rabinowitz, who sued the airline for discrimination after a flight attendant asked her to move seats on a flight in December 2015.

Rabinowitz, whose family fled the Nazi occupation in 1941 and who grew up Orthodox in New York and now lives in Jerusalem, had gone to visit family in the US. On the flight back home to Israel she was asked by an El Al flight attendant to move seats at the request of the ultra-Orthodox man in the window seat, next to the seat she had been assigned.

She moved without a fuss — “I had never been on a trip where a whole hullabaloo happened,” she told The Times of Israel in a March 2016 interview — but then thought about it again at the end of the flight, when she happened to speak to the pilot.

Rabinowitz, who has bad knees, was waiting for all the passengers to disembark, after which she would be taken by wheelchair through the airport. When the pilot emerged from the cabin, she started a conversation with him.

“I said, ‘Why do you do this? It’s not right?’ and he said, ‘It’s not the staff, it’s not us, it’s the board of directors.’ Meaning, if he’s correct, it’s apparently a practice they’ve decided on,” said Rabinowitz.

She later related her experience to Anat Hoffman, executive director at the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, who filed the lawsuit in her name.

El Al argued in court that it opposed any form of discrimination against passengers, and that its attendants “are on the front line of providing service for the company’s varied array of passengers.”

IRAC had initially demanded NIS 50,000 ($13,000) in compensation from El Al for Rabinowitz, arguing she was pressured into moving and that it was degrading. El Al offered $200 off Rabinowitz’s next flight, insisting the flight attendant made it clear she wasn’t obliged to move.

In Wednesday’s ruling, Rabinowitz was awarded NIS 6,500 but said the case was not about the money.

“I’m thrilled because the judge understood the issue,” she told The New York Times. “She realized its not an issue of money; they awarded a very small sum. She realized it’s a matter of El Al changing its policy and that’s what they’ve been ordered to do.”

1 reply
  1. Joe Levin
    Joe Levin says:

    El Al airlines cannot ask women to move seats to accommodate a man who does not want to sit next to a person of the opposite gender, a Jerusalem court found in response to a lawsuit filed by a Holocaust survivor in her 80s.

    In a decision handed down on Wednesday, Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Dana Cohen-Lekah said that the airline’s policy of asking a woman to give up her seat at the request of a haredi Orthodox man is “a direct transgression of the law preventing discrimination.”

    Women who are asked to move their seats, are not required to do so.

    Renee Rabinowitz, 83, a retired lawyer who made aliyah more than a decade ago and had been visiting family in the United States, agreed to switch her seat in business class on the December 2015 flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Israel. A flight attendant offered Rabinowitz a “better seat” closer to first class. She told the New York Times at the time that the lawsuit was filed that the flight attendant “treated me as if I was stupid” in trying to make the switch. The airline had offered Rabinowitz a $200 discount on her next El Al flight and she was told that she was under no obligation to make the switch.

    The judge awarded Rabinowitz 6,500 shekels, or about $1,800, in compensation. Her lawyer originally asked for 50,000 shekels, or about $14,000.

    The judge also ruled that the airline must declare that it is forbidden for a crew member to ask a passenger to change seats at the request of another passenger based on gender. El Al agreed to tell its cabin staff in writing about the prohibition within 45 days, and to provide training in how to deal with such situations within six months, according to the New York Times.

    Rabinowitz was represented by the Israel Religious Action Center, or IRAC, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, which had been looking for a test case on switching seats in which the flight attendant was actively involved in making the switch.

    “Renee Rabinowitz, an 82-year old holocaust survivor, set out to fight El Al because she wanted to prevent humiliation and discrimination of other women on flights. Just like Gal Gadot, Rabinowitz is a beautiful Israeli who has proven that she has superpowers,” Anat Hoffman,executive director of IRAC, said in a statement.

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply