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Lawyer in alleged anti-immigrant rant could face Commission on Human Rights investigation

Video of a man yelling at Spanish-speaking employees at a Fresh Kitchen on Madison Avenue went viral.

New York City Commission on Human Rights Bias

New York City Commission on Human Rights Bias Response Team members talk to Fresh Kitchen staff Friday following an anti-immigrant rant at the location that went viral. Photo Credit: Rajvi Desai

The city’s Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR) sent a Bias Response Team to the midtown eatery where a Manhattan attorney went on an anti-immigrant rant earlier this week.

The lawyer, identified by Rep. Adriano Espaillat as Aaron Schlossberg, was captured on video at a Fresh Kitchen on Madison Avenue on Tuesday delivering the racist rant after overhearing a worker speaking Spanish to two customers.

The NYCCHR, which is considering opening an investigation into the now-viral incident, told Fresh Kitchen workers they have the right to file a complaint with the commission.

“When responding to a bias incident, we will go to the location and talk to the affected staff, teach them how to file a complaint,” said Seth Hoy, with the NYCCHR. “We encourage anybody who sees discrimination to report it immediately.”

In the video, Schlossberg assumes the people he overheard speaking Spanish are not legally in the country and threatens to call U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement.

“Your staff is speaking Spanish to customers when they should be speaking English,” he told an employee in the video. “I will be following up and my gut says they’re not documented so my next call is to ICE to have these [people] kicked out of my country.”

Other customers can be heard coming to the aid of those being verbally attacked. One woman called the man “ignorant,” and suggested he “shouldn’t be allowed here.”

“Because of people like you, our nation is messed up,” a woman is heard saying before telling the lawyer he’s welcome to “call ICE.”

Outrage over the incident spread quickly, with elected officials wasting no time in finding ways to hold the man accountable.

Espaillat announced on Twitter that he filed a formal grievance on Thursday with the state’s Grievance Committee, which is responsible for reviewing the conduct of attorneys in the state.

The complaint, posted to Twitter and also signed by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., called the attorney’s rant a “humiliating and insulting attack on the more than 50 years of progress that this nation has made since the Civil Rights movement.”

The attorney grievance committee for Manhattan could not be reached for comment.

Schlossberg also is not allowed back in his midtown office, according to multiple reports.

“Effective immediately, Aaron Schlossberg will no longer be allowed to access 275 Madison Avenue,” a sign at the office reads, NY1 reported.

Corporate Suites, the company that owns the building, could not immediately be reached for comment. In a statement to NBC News, the company said, “Corporate Suites has a diverse and global community of business professionals working in a rich environment with mutual respect. We found Mr. Schlossberg’s statements offensive and contrary to our community norms and have decided to terminate his services agreement with us.”

Two other elected officials, Councilmen Jumaane Williams and Carlos Menchaca, showed support for the workers by eating lunch at Fresh Kitchen Thursday.

Mayor Bill de Blasio commented on the video on Wednesday, tweeting that the city’s “diversity is our strength. It’s what makes this city great. The 8.6 million people who call this city home speak more than 200 languages — they’re all New Yorkers and they’re all welcome here.”

According to 2016 Census data, 49 percent of New York City residents speak a language other than English, 24.5 percent of which identify as Spanish speakers.

Under the Human Rights Law, it is illegal in New York City to discriminate against or harass a person based on their immigration status or nation of origin. Violators could face a fine of up to $250,000, per the NYCCHR.

Over the last two years, NYCCHR said investigations into immigrant-related discrimination and harassment complaints have grown by 20 percent, with 334 new claims in the 2016-17 fiscal year compared to 275 filed in 2014-15.

The commission’s Bias Response Team was created in 2016 in order to handle the influx of complaints, Hoy said. “The team has responded to over 100 bias incidents in the past year.”

Twelve Bias Response Team members wearing jackets that said “Human Rights” on the back crowded the sidewalk outside Fresh Kitchen on Friday, handing out flyers and speaking to passers-by.

“I saw the video and I felt like I was in Alabama. I was surprised that the guy works in New York City,” said 44-year-old Cesar Penafiel, who works three blocks from Fresh Kitchen. “I speak Spanish and I would speak it with the store’s employees if the situation arose.”

A Fresh Kitchen employee told NYCCHR members they could meet with the workers later, but declined to speak further, citing the busy lunch hour rush.

Schlossberg also is being accused in two other hate-filled rants caught on camera within the past two years. In a video posted to YouTube on Oct. 19, 2016, Willie Morris said he was walking along Fifth Avenue when a man approached him and started yelling at him.

“As I was walking to my men’s group . . . Some lunatic on the street literally assaulted me and then just cussed me out. I’m still dumbfounded by the whole experience,” Morris says before cutting to video of the encounter that he said he recorded on his cellphone.

The video shows a white, middle-aged man who looks and sounds similar to the man in the Fresh Kitchen video verbally berating Morris and asking him, “What country are you from,” before threatening to “call the police.”

“I’m a citizen here and you’re not,” the man says to Morris before using several expletives and calling him a “foreigner.”

Isaac Saul, lead editor and columnist for the website A Plus, posted another video to Twitter on Wednesday purportedly showing the same man shouting at a group of Jewish protesters and giving them the finger on May 25, 2017.

After the Fresh Kitchen video began to go viral on social media Wednesday afternoon, people began leaving poor ratings on the law firm’s Yelp page. By Thursday afternoon, The Law Office of Aaron M. Schlossberg had a one-star rating on Yelp, leading the reviews website to issue an “active cleanup alert.”

The website for Schlossberg’s practice says members of his firm speak several languages, including Spanish and French.

A change.org petition, calling for Schlossberg to be disbarred, had received nearly 20,000 signatures by Friday morning, but according to a post from the New York Bar Association, “Schlossberg is NOT a member.”

With Rajvi Desai

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