A British-Israeli woman is suing EasyJet, the British low-cost airline, for demanding that she give up her seat on a flight from Tel Aviv to London to accommodate an ultra-Orthodox man and his son who refused to sit next to her because of her gender.
Melanie Wolfson, who moved to Israel 13 years ago and lives in Tel Aviv, is demanding 66,438 shekels ($19,515) in compensation from the airline, according to a suit filed last week on her behalf by the Israel Religious Action Center the advocacy arm of the Reform movement in Israel.
The 38-year-old plaintiff, a professional fundraiser, is also demanding that EasyJet stipulate in its guidelines for employees that they are prohibited from asking women to switch seats because of their gender and that they must defend their rights to sit in their assigned seats.
According to the suit, Wolfson had paid an extra fee for an aisle seat on a flight to London that took off October 10. An ultra-Orthodox man and his son were already sitting in the row when she arrived. As soon as she sat down, the son got out of his seat, climbed over to the row behind, presumably to avoid physical contact with her, and proceeded to look for a male passenger who would be willing to change seats with her. A few minutes later, he returned, and the father asked Wolfson to switch seats with a man a few rows ahead.
At this point, Wolfson refused to move. A flight attendant had purportedly offered the woman a free beverage if she complied with the man’s request. Eventually, Wolfson adhered so as not to delay the flight on her account. She told Haaretz it was the first time she was discriminated against based on her gender. She said,
“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.”
She encountered a similar incident two months later, which was also after her first official complaint to the airline. In the second incident, she was traveling to London once more. This time, two ultra-Orthodox men requested for Wolfson to move. Wolfson stood her ground, which resulted in two women switching seats with the men instead.
After submitting multiple complaints, she reportedly did not hear back from the airline. As such, Wolfson moved to the next step and filed for a lawsuit together with the IRAC.
At the time of the first incident, Wolfson received information from several flight attendants. According to Haaretz, they notified her that adhering to the request of ultra-Orthodox men was a common occurrence. The attendants also encouraged Wolfson to complain in hopes of rectifying the policy.
An airline spokesperson said that easyJet is handling the matter with much importance.
“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.”
EasyJet is being sued for violating Israeli’s anti-discrimination law. The law prohibits discriminating customers based on race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or political views. The IRAC believes the airline should have adhered to the law as the incident occurred on Israeli land.