City settles religious discrimination lawsuit with contractor for JFK and LaGuardia airports

Bag handlers at JFK were accused of stealing more than $27,000.
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New York City’s Human Rights Commission (CCHR) has settled a lawsuit of religious discrimination against Pax Assist, a contractor that provides wheelchair assistance to passengers at LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport.

CCHR’s first announced the lawsuit in 2017, in which they alleged Pax Assist denied breaks to their Muslim workers for daily prayers or for eating after fasting during the month of Ramadan.

The commission filed both a commission-initiated complaint and a public complaint made by a worker against the airport contractor, which works with more than two dozen airlines.

During the investigation, it was found that employees also reported they heard derogatory comments about Muslims by their managers over their communication devices when they asked to take a break earlier than scheduled. CCHR attorneys found several other employees has issues with Pax Assist’s accommodations.

Jay Rehman, the CCHR’s lead attorney in the case, said it took about two years to settle the case once he came on.

“There was enough evidence to be able to conciliate or settle the case. We had enough probable cause to determine that there was an infraction or a violation of the New York City Human Rights Law,” said Rehman.

The city’s Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations “based on actual or perceived religion or creed,” making it illegal for employers, housing providers, business owners and providers of public accommodations to treat someone differently because of their faith.

As a result of the settlement, Pax Assist will pay $17,500 in civil penalties, including $2,500 to the sole worker, create new policies about religious or other accommodations, make postings of all relevant NYC Human Rights Law and hold a company-wide training for all employees. They also agreed to be monitored for two years by the Commission.

Pax Assist did not respond to QNS’ request for comment.

Sapna V. Raj, CCHR’s Deputy Commissioner of the Law Enforcement Bureau, encouraged workers and New Yorkers in general to contact their department if they’ve experienced discrimination. CCHR representatives speak more than 30 languages, and offer New Yorkers the option to file a report anonymously.

“Not just in employment, but in any area people feel they’ve been discriminated against, if it’s in housing or using public accommodations, which is a variety of things [including] a store, a movie theater, a doctor’s office — any of those places that they feel they’ve been discriminated against because of their religion, they should contact us,” said Raj.

According to CCHR’s 2020 annual report, they filed 503 public-initiated complaints of discrimination. Sixty-six percent of those cases were in employment and 20 percent were in housing. Disability-related claims were the most common across all areas of jurisdiction at 18 percent, followed by gender at 16 percent, race at 11 percent and national origin at 8 percent.

This story first appeared on our sister publication qns.com.