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JFK firm is charged with religious bias

JFK Contractar charged photo20170127191808_l

QUEENS, NY — A wheelchair assistance service company at JFK allegedly violated the NYC Human Rights Law by repeatedly harassing and discriminating against Muslim employees.

The NYC Commission on Human Rights brought religious discrimination charges against Pax Assist, Inc. on January 25.

Pax Assist provides wheelchair assistance to passengers at Terminal 4 at JFK. They serve 32 airlines and employ more than 250 workers in the terminal, a press release states.

The company repeatedly denied Muslin employees break time to pray and break fast during Ramadan, the Commission alleges. The complaint also says supervisors publicly harassed Muslim employees over a radio system when they requested break time.

“We don’t care about Ramadan,” supervisors said over the radio. “We’ll give you a break on our time, not your time.”

This violates the NYC Human Rights Law, which guarantees that employees of every faith have the legal right to request and receive reasonable accommodations for religious observances, including break time for prayer or time to break a fast, as long as those accommodations do not cause an undue hardship to the employer.

The Commission also says Pax Assist doesn’t have a written religious accommodation policy, nor does it provide training to supervisors on responding to religious accommodations requests by employees.

The Commission filed charges against Pax Assist Inc. on behalf of the City of New York, instead of requiring individual employees to file claims. This is a broader effort to crack down on employers for “pattern or practice” violations of the law, a press release states.

If convicted, the responsible employees could be fined with civil penalties of up to $250,000 for wilful and malicious violations of the Law. The Commission can also award compensatory damages to victims, including emotional distress damages and other benefits.

The union organizing with the Muslim employees, 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU), brought the violations to the Commission’s attention.

“Airline subcontractors like Pax should respect their employees, not only for the hard work they do and important services they provide to passengers every day, but also as human beings and people with families, convictions, and human dignity,” said Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU.

“New York is a place where we respect the rights of all people and stand up for each other. We will not tolerate this type of treatment in our city.”

Pax Assist Inc. has been notified of the charges and the Commission is awaiting the company’s response.

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