March 25, 2020 VIA EMAIL: Letitia.firstname.lastname@example.org The Honorable Letitia James Attorney General of New York Office of the Attorney General The Capitol Albany, New York 12224-0341 Dear Attorney General James, We write on behalf of the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department and the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism, divisions of StandWithUs (SWU), an international, non-profit education organization supporting Israel and combating antisemitism. As you are likely aware, the rise in the deadly Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has been accompanied by a surge in manifestations of antisemitism. Among the dangerous allegations being spread throughout the internet are claims of Jews engineering COVID-19 in an attempt to establish their supremacy, that Jewish companies patented a COVID-19 vaccine with the hopes of profiting from it, and false reports of Orthodox Jews breaking social distancing mandates to engage in prayer. In addition to an increasing use of these classic antisemitic tropes, a recent FBI report stated that Neo-Nazis are encouraging dangerous and potentially deadly harm to Jews and police by spreading COVID-19 germs. The report claims that infected members are asked to fill spray bottles with body fluids and attack police and “spread to Jews by going to ‘any place they may be congregated, to include markets, political offices, businesses and places of worship.’” We are deeply troubled by one of the latest reported instances of blatant antisemitism, in which an Orthodox Jewish man apparently was denied his previously scheduled service at Johnstons Toyota service station in New Hampton, New York, by an employee who claimed that the Jewish customer was responsible for spreading the virus. If the events, as seen in a video recording of the incident, are in fact as reported, the conduct appears to be in direct violation of New York’s Human Rights law, specifically §296(2)(a), which states, in relevant part:
It shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice for any person, being the owner, lessee, proprietor, manager, superintendent, agent or employee of any place of public accommodation, resort or amusement, because of the race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, military status, sex, disability or marital status of any person, directly or indirectly, to refuse, withhold from or deny to such person any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges thereof . . . .
Section 292(9) of New York’s Human Rights law broadly defines “public accommodation” and specifically includes “wholesale and retail stores and establishments dealing with goods or services of any kind.” A Toyota service station surely fits squarely within this definition.
In the aforementioned video, the service member at the Toyota station appears to flatly refuse service to an Orthodox Jew under the premise that he is spreading the disease. The service member is acting at least as both an agent and employee of the service station, and potentially refusing service based on antisemitic conspiracy theories correlating Jews to the spread of COVID-19. As such, the service member, and by extension the Orange County Toyota service station, is denying accommodation based on the Jewish man’s creed in blatant violation of New York law.
We therefore call on you to fully investigate this matter as potential unlawful discrimination in violation of New York’s Human Rights law, and, if the allegations are found to be truthful, take appropriate action against the Toyota service station to the fullest extent provided by law.
We are confident you will agree that now is a time for us to pull together, not needlessly create division. Your prompt attention to this matter and public condemnation of antisemitism are important steps toward this end.
We look forward to hearing from your office by Monday, April 6, 2020.
StandWithUsSaidoff Legal Department
Carly F. Gammill
Director, SWU Center for Combating Antisemitism
StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department Counsel for Litigation Strategy