As I predicted, easyJet has settled with a woman who sued after being “forced” by flight attendants to move seats in order to accommodate two Haredi Jewish passengers on a flight to Tel Aviv, then was “intimidated” to move again on the return flight.
Woman Settles Gender Discrimination Lawsuit With EasyJet After She Was Asked Twice To Move Her Seat In Order To Accommodate Haredi Jewish Passengers
First, some background.
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 claimed 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 alleged that flight attendants refused to intervene in the matter and never defended her right to remain her seat.
The lawsuit was 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.
The EasyJet Settlement
Wolfson and easyJet have settled for an undisclosed amount.
In a joint statement with the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), easyJet noted:
EasyJet is aware of the issue where some male passengers say they are uncomfortable sitting next to women, who are not in their immediate family, due to their religious beliefs and as a result request that a crew member ask female passengers to move seats.
EasyJet does not believe that female passengers should be asked to move seats simply based on their gender. The airline has a policy to politely inform any customer who raises this request that this will not be accommodated. Unfortunately, according to Melanie Wolfson this policy was not followed in her case.
EasyJet is committed to tackling any discrimination on flights. Therefore, we listened when Ms Wolfson told us about incidents of gender discrimination on our flights when she was asked to move simply because she is female. We take this very seriously and in addition to compensating Ms Wolfson for her experience, easyJet intends to implement additional crew training and renew our crew guidelines in order to prevent these incidents from happening in the future.
At easyJet we believe that flying should be a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone, regardless of their gender and we are committed to making sure this is the case going forward.
Is This Valid Discrimination?
Looking back at my thoughts last August and the great discussion that ensued, I cannot say my viewpoint has shifted.
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.”
I still do not fully understand how not sitting next to a woman somehow erases them.
> Read More: Would You Have Switched Seats?
As I predicted, Wolfson settled 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 is clear on this. So is UK law. 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. Yet I get the stigma of even being asked to move…
What do you make of this issue? Feel free to opine below or continue the lively discussion here.