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N.Y. County DA Announces Inquiry Into Local Toyota Dealership That Refused Service to Chasidic Jew

[additional-authors]
March 25, 2020
WESTBURY, NEW YORK – MARCH 20: A general view of a Toyota sign as photographed on March 20, 2020 in Westbury, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

A district attorney for a county in southern New York announced that he is launching an inquiry into a local Toyota dealership over a video showing them refusing service to a Chasidic Jewish man.

The March 23 video shows the Jewish man arguing with an employee at the Johnstons Toyota in New Hampton, N.Y., as to why his appointment was denied. “I just want to understand why all the other guys can have service and you won’t accept me,” the Jewish man said.

“Because you’re spreading the virus,” the employee responded.

Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler said in a statement that he is launching an inquiry into the matter. He added that he spoke to owner of the dealership and that the owner has taken action to remedy the situation.

“No business can withhold service from any person on account of their race, creed, color or national origin, even during this time of emergency,” Hoovler said. “While there may be an understandable fear of contracting the coronavirus, there is never an excuse to violate people’s civil rights due to their race, gender or religion.”

The Times Herald-Record of Middletown, N.Y., quoted the dealership’s attorney, Randy Perlmutter, as saying, “The dealership had closed, at that time of the video, for regular service, and was only taking emergencies and/or serving essential workers. There were signs posted to that effect. Multiple people with routine service appointments were turned away. Johnstons Toyota takes any customer complaint seriously and this one will be investigated.”

Anti-Defamation League New York/Jersey tweeted that it found the video to be “deeply troubling,” adding that “we cannot allow fears about #Covid19 to spark bigotry. This virus does not #discriminate & neither should we.”

StandWithUs called on New York Attorney General Letitia James to investigate the incident.

“We are seeing numerous instances of people wrongly blaming minorities — primarily Jews and Chinese people — for COVID-19,” the pro-Israel educational organization said in a statement. “StandWithUs is deeply troubled by one of the latest such reported instances, in which an Orthodox Jewish man in New York appears to have been turned away at a Toyota service station by an employee who claimed the man was responsible for spreading the virus. The StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism and the Saidoff Legal Department are calling upon the New York Attorney General to investigate this matter as potential unlawful discrimination in violation of New York’s Human Rights law.”

James’ office is reportedly reviewing the matter.

Steve Jardine, who is part of the dealership’s management, told Mid Hudson News that the Jewish man was asked three times to leave before the employee told him to leave “because you’re spreading the virus.”

“The rabbi there has the virus and there has been many recorded cases there and my employees were scared for their safety as anyone would be,” Jardine said. “We are here for essential work, not for oil changes, no matter who you are.  Recalls, breakdowns and emergencies only. We spoke with the DA locally about this and everyone is concerned about the safety of the public.”

The rabbi he was referring to was Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, one of the grand rabbis of the Satmar Chasidic sect in Kiryas Joel.

Johnstons Toyota issued an apology over the incident in a March 24 statement to News 12 Hudson Valley reporter Blaise Gomez.

“We apologize for the misunderstanding and if this came across as insensitive,” the statement read. “The intent was to ensure the health and safety of the customer and dealership employees and in no way reflects our values or beliefs. We took immediate action to ensure our employees take a more sensitive approach moving forward.”

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