New York City agreed Tuesday to a settlement with seven Jewish-owned stores in Williamsburg who had signs asking customers to dress modestly, dropping a controversial lawsuit while securing a pledge for the stores to be more welcoming.
The city’s human rights commissioner announced the agreement in a statement Tuesday, days before an administrative trial was to have begun.
“Representatives from the stores agreed that if they were to post new signs in their windows, they would say that while modest dress is appreciated, all individuals are welcome to enter the stores free from discrimination,” Commissioner Patricia Gatling said in outlining the accord.
The clothing stores along Lee Avenue, which are frequented by a large Jewish and non-Jewish clientele, had requested that customers respect the dress codes of the community. The city’s interpretation of the signs in the lawsuit filed in August of 2012 as discriminatory was denounced in several tabloid editorials.
Lawyers for the stores and community activists heralded the deal while emphasizing that the signs were still legal.
“They’re welcome — subject to dressing modestly,” Jay Lefkowitz, who represented the businesses, told the Daily News regarding future signs. “We’re still working on the writing.”
The lawsuit had engendered considerable outrage in the community, with some officials wondering how it was different than common dress codes at upscale restaurants requiring jackets or banning casual clothes. The lawsuit also was not the result of any customer complaint.
The commission said in their filing that the signs may cause women to feel uncomfortable. However, an attorney for the shopkeepers said that the signs do not single anyone out and are geared toward men also.
As part of the agreement, Gatling said she would try to raise the fines for discriminatory commercial behavior from $2,500 to $7,500.
Rabbi Moshe Dovid Niederman said that the stores’ innocence had been “vindicated.”
“It was an outrage for this case to be brought in the first place,” said Rabbi Niederman, who heads the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg.
Councilman David Greenfield welcomed the settlement, saying in a statement Tuesday that it ended “an unfair and unnecessary lawsuit that arbitrarily targeted these businesses while ignoring many others around the city that employ similar dress codes.”
The Daily News reported that the two sides met Tuesday morning with Administrative Judge Kevin Casey, following which the city agreed to dismiss the case.
“The shopkeepers always said that nobody was actually excluded from the stores,” Lefkowitz said. “Any future signs will make clear that everybody is welcome, which was the reality.”