New York City sues Orthodox shops over dress codes

(RNS) The New York City Commission on Human Rights is suing ultra-Orthodox Jewish business owners in Brooklyn because they posted signs calling on customers to dress modestly in their stores.  

The commission said the owners, whose businesses are located in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, violated human rights law with signs that read: “No shorts, no barefoot, no sleeveless, no low-cut neckline allowed in this store.”

Ultra-Orthodox Jews practice a strict form of Judaism; men, women and older children are expected to wear clothes that cover their arms, legs and necklines.

Clifford Mulqueen, deputy commissioner and general counsel to the Human Rights Commission, told the Haaretz newspaper in Israel that the signs “are pretty specific to women. It seems pretty clear that it’s geared toward women dressing modestly if they choose to come into the store, and that would be discrimination.”

The seven business owners deny the charges.

Marc Stern, associate general counsel at the American Jewish Committee, told Religion News Service that the commission’s suit appears to unfairly single out Hasidic Jews.

“What’s disturbing about the action is that gender-specific dress codes are a common phenomenon at upscale restaurants and clubs. It’s at least perplexing and maybe worse that the only type of code that the commission has challenged are those that seem to have a religious basis, even though they’re gender neutral.”

Devora Allon, the attorney representing the businessmen, insisted that the signs “are gender neutral, they do not discriminate and there is no discriminatory intent. I believe the commission’s claims have no merit.”

Allon said that “no customer has ever been denied service at the stores on the basis of how he or she dressed.”

A pre-trial conference is scheduled for March 12.

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Michele Chabin


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  • A business is PRIVATE PROPERTY and you have a constitutional right to decide who is on your property and to set moral standards! This applies to your business, your home, or rental property you own.

    I would have people that didn’t follow my rules arrested fro TRESPASSING!

  • I don’t understand this. There are lots of establishments that have dress codes. Most businesses have signs that say: No shirt, no shoes, no service. Or something to that effect. Why is that ok and this isn’t? I don’t see that it’s gender specific. If both men and women are expected to follow the same guidelines as patrons in the store (and in Judaism in terms of covering areas of the body) then who is it discriminating against, exactly? The random non-Jewish person who comes by and wants to go into the store? And that just goes back around to my first point. Establishments set dress codes. And there’s nothing wrong with it. Should we get mad that stores won’t let us walk around inside in our underwear next?

  • “What’s disturbing about the action is that gender-specific dress codes are a common phenomenon at upscale restaurants and clubs.”

    This actually a VERY good point. Clubs, restaurants and other similar establishments DO have dress codes. Its seems this is directly targeting a religious community.

  • Cripes, I don’t usually say such capitalist things, but let the market work. If these shop owners are prepared to lose trade because some potential customers aren’t dressed to their specifications–fine. On their heads be it.

  • This is just silly. These human rights organizations seem to like to pick fights with little guys just to stoke their own egos. What’s more, it’s getting really old the way many people claim to be tolerant and open minded to different beliefs and cultures, but then get a major bug up their butts if anyone dares to uphold a religious commitment anywhere outside their home or house of worship. It’s a store owned and operated by a group of highly conservative Jews. How can anyone be surprised that they ask for a little modesty in dress from their customers? Neither is there anything at all about the store’s policy that sounds gender specific, besides the low neckline ban. People just like to feel victimized, I think.

  • So, have you heard the one about how women, Jewish or not, are forced to sit at the back of the buses running in Jewish Orthodox neighborhoods? Of course the modesty signs are directed at women.

  • If your business serves the public, you have no right to discriminate based on religion, gender or race.

    You want to put up signs in your home about modesty dress codes, fine. You want to do it in your church, fine. Not the public square.

    If I put up a sign in my shop reading “No beards or skull caps” I bet you’d be singing a different tune.

  • Are you kidding me? If Muslims were ot put up a sign requiring female customers to wear burquas, our “Christians” and their Jewish brethren would be all over that lawsuit in a New York Minute – IF you get my meaning.

  • Right. And if you’re not the right shade of pigment… let the market do it’s work/snark. Not much of a differnce.