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Hasidic-Owned Businesses Settle With NYC Human Rights Commission

Will change their modesty signs into something a bit more comfortable

Stephanie Butnick
January 22, 2014

It looks like the battle between Hasidic-owned businesses in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who were posting signs saying things like “No shorts, no barefoot, no sleeveless, no low-cut neckline allowed in this store,” and the New York City Human Rights Commission, which targets businesses using discriminatory practices, has reached a temporary detente. The fight to keep out immodestly dressed potential customers (lest they, you know, become customers) landed Hasidic business owners in hot water with the commission, who charged them with discriminating against primarily women, but also against customers who weren’t ultra-Orthodox.

However the trial, which was set to begin this week, won’t happen after all—the two parties settled, sparing the businesses a hefty fine of $75,000 in exchange for changing the wording of the signs, which must now read “Modest Dress Appreciated—All People Welcome.”

I feel welcome already. However, as Noah Feldman points out in Bloomberg View, the settlement avoids what might actually have been helpful in this situation: a judge’s ruling on which party’s fundamental rights are being violated. That’s because while the lawyers for the defense, while arguing that the dress code is no different from a sign at a beach restaurant demanding shirts and shoes, also posited that these business owners “had been targeted for enforcement because their dress code is religiously motivated. In essence, they accused the Human Rights Commission of discriminating against them.”

It’s a more complicated case than it may have appeared. Of course, Feldman vehemently disagrees with the defense’s second argument, but a judge might not have.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.