Photo Credit: Brian Turner / Wikimedia Commons

The laws of modesty (tzniut) are making news. And raising this question: Does an Orthodox Jewish woman have the right to wear a skirt even when a company dress code calls for pants only?

Hadas Goldfarb is about to find out. Goldfarb, 26, a certified paramedic, is suing New York Presbyterian Hospital and FDNY for employment discrimination over their refusal to permit her to wear a skirt – any skirt, even with pants underneath – on the job.

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After the hospital hired Goldfarb as a paramedic, she was given an employee manual that includes an item on acceptable attire. Skirts are expressly prohibited. When Goldfarb explained to a supervisor that she does not wear pants for religious reasons, and requested a dispensation to wear a skirt, she was refused, and her employment terminated before it had even begun. The supervisor cited “safety concerns,” though never specified what those might be.

In her complaint filed last week in New York State Supreme Court, Goldfarb asserts that the hospital failed to provide “reasonable accommodation” to her religious observance, as Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act requires. The hospital has yet to respond to the lawsuit, which has already garnered media attention.

Meanwhile, also last week, a federal court in New York dismissed a suit brought by an Orthodox woman over her right to wear a skirt – not on the job, but at the gym. Yosefa Jalal had sued Lucille Roberts Health Clubs for failing to make an exception to its dress code policy so that she could wear a modest skirt while exercising on club equipment.

In that case, Jalal was suing under Title II of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion and other grounds in places of “public accommodation.” The judge found the health club’s rules of attire do not unfairly target Jewish women.

Jalal alleged that she had exercised for years at the club in a skirt, until a manager stepped in and objected. Similarly, Goldfarb asserts that she worked for years as an emergency responder in her native Cleveland, wearing a skirt without incident. Her complaint also claims that many ambulance companies allow paramedics and EMTs to wear skirts on the job, and cites the example of Judge Rachel Freier of Brooklyn, an Orthodox Jew who has worked for many years as an EMT while maintaining modest attire.

So does the decision in the Jalal case foretell a similar outcome for Goldfarb? Not at all, says Goldfarb’s attorney, Joey Aron, of Aron Law PLLC.

“Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for their employees’ religious observance, while gym owners and other businesses do not have that same duty toward their customers,” explains Aron, who specializes in employment law.

“These cases deal with different issues and were brought under entirely different sections of the statute.”

Aron says, “We live in a great country where religion is not only protected, but valued. As a father of three young Orthodox girls, my greatest hope is this action will enable them to pursue their professional dreams without compromising those values.”

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Ziona Greenwald is a freelance writer and editor. She holds a J.D. from Fordham Law School and has worked as a court attorney and a magazine editor. A former New Yorker, she now lives with her family in Jerusalem.