The businesses have been slapped with a lawsuit by the New York City Commission on Human Rights, alleging that their modesty policy was a violation of the human rights laws that prevent discrimination, and have been summoned to a pre-trial meeting next month.
The owners of the seven stores, located in Williamsburg neighborhood, placed signs on their windows in English, Hebrew and Portuguese, advising customers wearing shorts, sleeveless tops and low cut necklines or barefoot that they would not be permitted inside.
"Visitors may enter in modest clothing only," the top of the ad says in Hebrew.
Williamsburg, formerly a neighborhood dominated by Jewish Orthodox residents and Puerto Rican immigrants, has attracted many young people in the past decade and is now known for its hipster population.
'Discrimination based on gender and creed'
According to the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), the stores’ policies of requiring customers to dress modestly is a violation of the human rights laws that prevent discrimination.
According to seven complaints filed against the storeowners, a CCHR employee who visited the stores on July 24, 2012 determined that the sign 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.”
Modesty rules on one of stores (Photo: VIN - Vos Iz Neias)
In an interview to the VIN - Vos Iz Neias ("What is new?" in Yiddish) website, CCHR Deputy Commissioner/General Counsel Clifford Mulqueen said “there is nothing wrong with a dress code per se, but there is something wrong with a public accommodation trying to impose its religious beliefs on other people.”
Devora Allon, an associate at the law firm representing the business owners, told VIN News: “There is no legal basis to this claim. No one has ever 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.”
Allon, who represents the storeowners on a pro bono basis, said she expected there to be a mediation effort on the March 12 hearing, but stressed that should those attempts fail, the storeowners were ready to take their case to trial.
“We are taking this very seriously,” she explained. “There are religious rights at stake here.”