3 Muslim families claim NYC Ferry denied them access, citing ‘security issue,’ complaint says

An attempt by three Muslim families to ride an NYC Ferry was impeded by employees who said there was a “security issue,” according to a complaint filed Wednesday by the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. 

The complaint, filed with New York City’s Commission on Human Rights, details an incident where three Muslim families tried to take a ferry to Brooklyn’s Pier 6 on Sept. 21. 

According to the complaint, the families, who were traveling with children, asked to board last in order to accommodate “a double stroller and many kids.” While the families were getting ready to board, two NYC Ferry workers had a conversation they couldn’t overhear. 

The workers then prevented them from boarding, due to a “security issue,” the complaint says. 

Two of the women in the group were “wearing hijabs, religious headcover, and long dresses covering their legs and arms for religious purposes,” and had “pronounced accents,” according to the complaint. 

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Three Muslim families say they were denied boarding an NYC Ferry by staff who claimed "security" concerns. (Photo: Photo Courtesy NYC Ferry)

One of the women in the group was told by an NYC Ferry employee that “security” informed him not to let her and her group on to the ferry. The document says the families were escorted to security in full view of the other passengers. 

The complaint states a security officer who spoke with one of the women in the group was “confused” and did not know why the NYC Ferry employees were “blaming security.” 

Eventually, the complaint says, another NYC Ferry employee got involved who “was rude, unprofessional, and raised her voice towards Complainants who were only trying to learn why they were being denied service.”

The employee allegedly said the families were denied access because the children in their group were “allegedly standing on the seats” during an earlier ferry ride. 

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The families took NYC Ferry from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, to a Wall Street stop without incident earlier in the day, according to the complaint. After two hours, the three families were able to board a ferry back to Bay Ridge.

That evening, one of the women in the group submitted a complaint to NYC Ferry about the incident. According to the complaint, NYC Ferry conceded the worker’s allegation the children were standing on seats was not true.

NYC Ferry called the incident a “misunderstanding” and offered a refund, according to the complaint, which said  the families were “embarrassed and humiliated” during the incident. It calls the day “one of the worst days” of the lives of the families involved.

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In a Wednesday tweet, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said discrimination “is an insult to ALL New Yorkers.”

“Bigotry has no place in this city,” he tweeted. “We will confront it and hold those involved accountable.”

The New York City Economic Development Corporation, which operates NYC Ferry, said in a statement to USA TODAY that “discrimination has no place in our city.”

“The City is investigating these allegations, and if they are proven true, will take swift and appropriate action to hold those responsible accountable,” an EDC spokesperson said in a statement. 

The families involved in the complaint are seeking punitive damages, as well as compensatory damages for “humiliation, embarrassment, and severe emotional distress.”

They’re also seeking an apology and “appropriate discipline and significant sensitivity and cultural trainings to deter future reprehensible conduct.” 

“All New Yorkers, regardless of creed, deserve equal and fair service free of discrimination, especially when using public transportation like the NYC Ferry,” CAIR-NY Litigation Director Ahmed Mohamed said in a statement. 

“These families were humiliated and traumatized in public view and treated as suspect because they happen to be Muslim. That is unacceptable. We hope the City will live up to its commitment of nondiscrimination and swiftly correct this injustice.” 

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