Avis accused of discrimination against Jewish names and accents

WASHINGTON, March 5 (JTA) — Recent charges that Avis Rent-A-Car engaged in an elaborate religious discrimination scheme may point to a larger problems of anti-Semitism in corporate America. At least six former employees said this week that Avis’ corporate accounts department regularly discriminated against customers with Jewish-sounding accents or names, USA Today reported this week. The policy came in response to complaints that callers used yeshivas to set up corporate accounts, which allow drivers younger than 25 to rent cars, John Carley, chief counsel for Avis, told USA Today. When some of these cars were returned with damage, these Avis workers said, they were told to watch out for yeshivas. “Telesales agents used the word `yeshiva’ to refer to Chasidic Jews,” former employee Elaine Rodgers said in a sworn declaration filed Monday in North Carolina. Rodgers submitted the statement to support a lawsuit filed by black customers who charged that they were victims of racial bias. “Formally, there was no program called `yeshiva.’ If, anecdotally, the problem was described by people that way, my information is, yes, there was that phrase used to describe the problem,” Carley told USA Today. Other Avis officials stressed that the company had a strict policy against discrimination and planned to investigate these charges. The former agents said they were on guard for strong Jewish accents, especially from densely populated Jewish areas, including New York. In addition, one former employee said the agents gave less-favorable rates to businesses that they believed were Jewish-owned. While anti-Semitic incidents in the United States are decreasing, the number of Jews filing discrimination complaints have risen sharply. In 1990, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that 195 Jews filed discrimination cases. That figure rose steadily for six years, with 319 Jews filing such complaints last year. “I think there is a problem of discrimination in corporate America,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Thirty years after Congress passed major civil rights legislation, “we may have to re-examine if there is a need for better, stronger and more explicit” laws, said Foxman, who sent a letter this week urging Avis President Stephen Holmes to address the matter.

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