UPDATE: EasyJet Settles With Passenger
A woman is suing easyJet over a pair of seat assignment incidents on flights from Tel Aviv. Her lawsuit claims she faced unlawful gender discrimination after flight attendants coaxed her to move seats to accommodate two Haredi Jewish passengers. While she does have a strong case, I do question the harm.
Woman Accuses easyJet Of Gender Discrimination In Lawsuit After She Was Asked Twice To Move Her Seat In Order To Accommodate Haredi Jewish Passengers
The first incident occurred in October 2019. Melanie Wolfson was traveling from Tel Aviv to London on easyJet and had paid extra for an aisle seat. Upon boarding, she found a Haredi Jewish father and son in the window and middle seat of the row.
The son stood up and began looking for a male passenger to switch places with Wolfson. He found a wiling participant a few rows up. But Wolfson initially refused to move. Only after being coaxed by flight attendants did Wolfson begrudgingly agree to move.
She later told Haaretz she was “insulted” and “humiliated” by the move:
“It was the first time in my adult life that I was discriminated against for being a woman. I would not have had any problem whatsoever switching seats if it were to allow members of a family or friends to sit together, but the fact that I was being asked to do this because I was a woman was why I refused.”
The lawsuit claims flight attendants later told Wolfson that these gender-related seat assignment incidents routinely occur on Tel Aviv flights. They encouraged her to write easyJet and complain.
Just two months later, a similar incident occurred onboard the same route, Tel Aviv to London.
This time, Wolfson held her ground and refused to move. Eventually, two female passengers agreed to switch with the two Haredi passengers. Wolfon’s lawsuit alleges that flight attendants refused to intervene in the matter and never defended her right to remain her seat.
An easyJet spokesperson said:
“At easyJet we take claims of this nature very seriously. Whilst it would be inappropriate to comment, as this matter is currently the subject of legal proceedings, we do not discriminate on any grounds.”
The lawsuit has been filed in Israel, where Israeli’s anti-discrimination law means Wolfson can earn up 50,000NIS (~$15,000) for unlawful discrimination without even needing to prove damages.
So, Is This Valid Discrimination?
Obviously, this is discrimination. This is also an issue that seems to run afoul of both British and Israeli law. But that’s an incomplete analysis.
I have shared about my own experience surrounding a Haredi passenger on a flight to New York many years ago. I was asked to move to a middle seat so the man could avoid sitting next to a woman.
In that case, I moved, even though it was from an aisle seat to a middle seat (there was a bit more to the story). I’d probably do it again today depending upon flight length and seat assignment.
It’s not because I want to perpetuate treating woman as second class. Goodness no. Rather, it’s because my understanding of Shomer negiah is that such behavior is actually done out of respect for woman (i.e., you only touch your own spouse or family members, no one else of the opposite sex).
Perhaps intentions should not matter. Wolfson should not have been made to feel second class because these observant passengers were too cheap to buy a third seat.
But as a religious person myself, I try to make reasonable faith-based accommodations to others, including those outside of my faith group. I struggle to view such actions as hostile to women.
Here, Wolfson was asked to move to an aisle seat two rows up the first flight and refused to move the second flight. I don’t see the harm. It’s one thing if the state treats you as second class due to your gender. But is it really so horrible if a seatmate simply wants to follow his faith in a way that does not impact you as long as you are offered an equivalent or better seat?
Rabbi Noa Sattath of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) disagrees. He told Haaretz:
“The attempt to move a woman from a seat she reserved because of chauvinistic ideas, which have absolutely no connection to Judaism, is immoral, illegal and illegitimate. A direct line connects the attempt to erase women by refusing to sit next to them and the tacit consent that is given to hurt them and their bodies. We, in the Reform movement, through IRAC, will do whatever needs to be done to promote gender equality in Israel.”
Perhaps someone can explain to me how not sitting next to a woman somehow erases them?
> Read More: Would You Have Switched Seats?
I think Wolfson will ink a handsome settlement agreement with EasyJet. The flight attendants should not have pressured her to move the first time nor left her to fend for herself the second time. Israeli law seems clear to me. Even so, who wants to sit next to someone who does not want to sit next to you? Wolfson could have moved for her own comfort, not theirs. But I get the stigma of even being asked to move…
What do you make of this issue? This is a tough one for me.