Israeli Woman Awarded Damages for Not Being Allowed on Bus Based on Her Dress

'You were in the world's shortest shorts,' driver told teenager at religious West Bank settlement in 2018 ■ Judge rules this amounted to discrimination and sexual harassment

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People standing in line to board the 143 Egged bus in Jerusalem, Israel, May 2, 2019.
People standing in line to board the 143 Egged bus in Jerusalem, Israel, May 2, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Or Kashti

A court awarded a young woman 150,000 shekels ($44,000) in damages after a bus driver refused to let her board because she was wearing shorts.

The driver “discriminated against her because of her beliefs and liberal lifestyle, as evidenced by her dress,” Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Kohava Levy ruled, adding that the refusal constituted “gross contempt and humiliation.”

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The company, she continued, should consider whether “a bus driver who isn’t capable of respecting all his passengers” is “fit to provide service.”

The incident occurred in October 2018. The woman, then 18, was standing at a bus stop in the religious West Bank settlement of Kochav Yaakov, near Ramallah, waiting for a bus to take her to her first day of work at a new job. But when the number 143 of the Egged Taavura company arrived, the driver refused to let her board. She said a man who was waiting with her was allowed on, but the driver told her “you aren’t getting on like that.”

The next day, the woman boarded the same bus, with the same driver, and asked why he hadn’t let her on the previous day. “You were in the world’s shortest shorts. They looked practically like underpants,” he replied.

She then sued the company, with the support of the Israel Women’s Network.

The driver, Yuval Avital, told the court that she was wearing “minimal clothing,” with “her legs bare,” and that this was “unusual among the population that uses this line.” He added that he is an Orthodox Jew, and the woman’s clothing wasn’t in line with his worldview.

Avital thereby “prioritized his lifestyle and beliefs over his professional obligation to provide service as a public bus driver,” Levy wrote.

Moreover, the company defended his actions. In its response to the court, it said he was upholding religious standards on behalf of the other passengers, most of whom are Orthodox.

Levy stressed that “inappropriate clothing” – in the view of the driver or the other passengers – isn’t grounds for refusing to let someone board the bus, and that a driver has no business expressing his opinion of any passenger’s clothing. She also concluded, based on Avital’s comparison of the woman’s shorts to underpants, that he was guilty of gender discrimination and sexual harassment, since one of the legal definitions of sexual harassment is “degrading or humiliating treatment of any person with regard to his gender or sexual orientation.”

Finally, she criticized the company for not ensuring that the law was upheld.

The woman's lawyers, Galit Zinger, Hagai Kalai and Adi Greenfeld, said the ruling sent an “unequivocal message” that “degrading and excluding women for any reason whatsoever is forbidden.” It also made clear that the company’s failure to do anything to prevent such behavior, either before or after the incident, was unacceptable, they added.

Michal Gera Margaliot, executive director of the Israel Women’s Network, added that “the driver’s humiliating attitude toward [her] clothing is part of a trend that seeks to cover women up and push them out of the public square. We’d like to remind everyone that women can sit wherever they want, in any seat and in any clothing, on any bus in Israel.”

Egged Taavura said there was “never any doubt that the bus driver erred by exercising his own judgment, contrary to the company’s policy. Nevertheless, we believe the reason for this was a mistaken interpretation of the transportation regulations rather than discrimination or sexual harassment.”

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