Last February I shared the story of an 81 year old woman who flew EL AL business class from Newark to Tel Aviv and was asked to change seats due to her gender. As was reported at the time, she was asked by a flight attendant to switch seats due to the objection of a man who was seated next to her, who insisted the Torah prohibited them from sitting next to one another.
This isn’t the first time EL AL has had such an issue, as we’ve heard countless similar stories. Anyway, the lady, a former lawyer, decided to sue EL AL over this, not for the financial damages as such, but rather on principle. As she explained at the time:
“For me this is not personal. It is intellectual, ideological and legal. I think to myself, here I am, an older woman, educated, I’ve been around the world, and some guy can decide that I shouldn’t sit next to him. Why?”
Here’s the basis of the lawsuit at the time:
A lawyer for the religious action group wrote a letter to El Al last month saying that Ms. Rabinowitz had felt pressured by the attendant and accusing El Al of illegal discrimination. It argued that a request not to be seated next to a woman differed from other requests to move, say, to sit near a relative or a friend, because it was by nature degrading. The lawyer demanded 50,000 shekels (about $13,000) in compensation for Ms. Rabinowitz.
Well, it has been well over a year since I had last heard about this story, though it looks like there’s now an update, per The Guardian. Mrs. Rabinowitz had her day in court, and won. An Israeli judge ruled that it’s illegal for an airline to ask someone to change seats because of their gender:
Describing the controversial practice as “discriminatory”, judge Dana Cohen-Lekah ruled that “under absolutely no circumstances can a crew member ask a passenger to move from their designated seat because the adjacent passenger doesn’t want to sit next to them due to their gender”.
Speaking in a Jerusalem court on Wednesday, Cohen-Lekah added that the policy was a “direct transgression” of the Israeli discrimination laws relating to products and services.
While the lawsuit asked for 50,000 shekels (~14,000USD) damage, she was only awarded 6,500 shekels (1,800USD), though it seems like the amount was secondary to the principle in this case.
EL AL now has 45 days to change their policies regarding this. EL AL has said that they’ll clarify this policy to their employees and will respect the verdict. So now if anyone has an issue with the gender on their seatmate on EL AL, it’ll be on them to move.