Muslim Pax Assist workers at JFK Airport were discriminated against, commission says

A company that provides wheelchair assistance services at Kennedy Airport has been charged with discrimination by the New York City Commission on Human Rights for refusing Muslim employees breaks to pray and break fasts during Ramadan, the commission announced Wednesday.

Pax Assist Inc., which serves 32 airlines and employs 250 workers at JFK’s Terminal 4, “publicly harassed Muslim employees over a radio system when they requested break time,” according to the commission.

Repeated phone calls to Pax seeking comment ended unsuccessfully.

The union 32BJ SEIU, which is unionizing the employees, brought the violations to the commission’s attention. The complaint alleges employees were repeatedly denied requests for breaks to pray or break their fasts, and that the firm’s “inflexible employee break policy” has a disparate impact on employees of every faith.

Pax does not have a written religious accommodation policy nor does the firm provide training to supervisors on how to respond to requests for religious accommodation, the commission alleges. NYC law stipulates that employees have the right to request and receive reasonable accommodations for religious observances as long as they do not cause undue hardship for an employer.

The complaint was filed Jan. 13 and Pax has 30 days to respond, during which time the commission will continue its investigation. Three employees have come forth with complaints, and they indicated that other Muslim employees may also have experienced discrimination, a commission spokesman said.