Brit sues easyJet after being pressured to give up seat for Orthodox Jewish men

A British-Israeli woman is suing easyJet for discrimination after she was forced to move seat to accommodate an ultra-Orthodox Jewish men.

Melanie Wolfson, 38, claims she was made to move seats so the father and son did not have to sit next to a woman.

She is suing the budget airline for 66,438 shekels (£14,800) in compensation for the flight from London to Tel Aviv, according to a suit filed last week on her behalf.

The plaintiff, a professional fundraiser, is demanding that the airline change its guidelines for flight crew to prohibit them from asking women to switch seats because of their gender.

In response easyJet have said they ‘do not discriminate on any grounds’.

According to Haaretz, Ms Wolfson wants female passengers to be allowed to defend their rights to sit in their assigned seats.

easyJet is one of a handful of airlines that flies direct from London to trendy culture and nightlife tourism hot-spot Tel Aviv.

The newspaper reports that the suit says the incident took place flight on October 10, 2019, and was the first of two similar encounters she claims took place on easyJet trips.

Ms Wolfson claims she had already paid extra to book an aisle seat when she found an ultra-Orthodox man and his son sitting in the row when she arrived.

As soon as she sat down, the son reportedly got out of his seat and climbed over to the row behind the seats, presumably to avoid physical contact with her for religious reasons.

The son then proceeded to look for a male passenger who would be willing to change seats with her, despite Ms Wolfson preferring to stay put.

Brit sues easyJet after being pressured to give up seat for Orthodox Jewish men

The suit claims a few minutes later, he returned, and the father asked her to switch seats with a man a few rows ahead of the trio.

Ms Wolfson claims the flight attendants offered her a free hot drink to move seats and explained to her that it was common for flight attendants to ask female passengers to move to accommodate ultra-Orthodox males.

She also claims the flight attendants encouraged her to complain to the airline in the hope that it could force a change in the controversial policy.

Ms Wolfson said she made it clear she was not impressed but ended up moving because she didn’t want to hold up the entire flight.

But she said she felt“insulted and humiliated” by the request that she move.

“It was the first time in my adult life that I was discriminated against for being a woman,” she told Haaretz.

“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.”

Brit sues easyJet after being pressured to give up seat for Orthodox Jewish men

She added: “What was even more infuriating was that there were passengers watching this happen who said nothing.”

She said she filed a formal complaint against easyJet about a month after the flight.

She based the complaint over the claimed demand by staff that she move seats because of her gender, she noted in the complaint, which her suit says is a violation of anti-discrimination laws

But two months after the flight, she flew with easyJet  – this time back to London – and claims the same thing happened again.

She claims she had not yet received any response to her complain when she took the flight and found herself being asked to move seats by two ultra-Orthodox men once again. 

She claims that time around, some other female passengers agreed to switch seats with the men so that Ms Wolfson did not have to move

But she claims that once again flight attendants did not try to intervene of defend her seating rights, and again offered a free hot drink as compensation.

Brit sues easyJet after being pressured to give up seat for Orthodox Jewish men

She says she filed a second complaint several days later, and when she never got a response she decided to launch a lawsuit.

She is reportedly suing based on an Israeli law enacted in 2000, which prohibits discrimination against customers on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, land of origin, gender, sexual orientation, political views or personal status.

Ms Wolfson is reportedly being supported in her suit by the Israel Religious Action Center IRC) – the advocacy arm of the Jewish reform movement which challenges issues like gender segregation.

Although easyJet not based in Israel, IRAC will argue that the first incident was subject to Israeli law while the plane was on the ground at Ben-Gurion International Airport, where the first incident took place.

A spokeswoman for the airline told Mirror Online: “At EasyJet we take claims of this nature very seriously. While it would be inappropriate to comment, as this matter is currently the subject of legal proceedings, we do not discriminate on any grounds.”

Gender issues can be divisive among Jewish communities, as liberal and reform followers chafe at ultra-Orthodox men’s desire to avoid women in public spaces.

In 2017, IRAC won a ground-breaking case against another Israeli airline El Al, involving a similar situation to Ms Wolfson’s.

Holocaust survivor and lawyer Renee Rabinowitz won compensation from the airline after she was pressured by flight attendants to move seats when an ultra-Orthodox man refused to sit next to her.

The court also ruled that El Al could no longer demand seat changes based on gender and it must incorporate the rules officially and train staff in them.

Mirror Online has approached Ms Wolfson for comment.

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