The swift, mounting backlash to a Manhattan attorney's hateful meltdown at a midtown Fresh Kitchen is now entering the restorative justice phase—though it remains unclear whether the targets of his verbal attack will seek disciplinary action over the incident.
On Friday afternoon, members of the NYC Commission on Human Rights' Bias Response Team went to the site of Aaron Schlossberg's now infamous rant, in which he threatened to call ICE on a group of people, including some employees, who were speaking Spanish in his vicinity. As customers ordered salads and conversed in Spanish, the Bias Response Team attempted to inform the employees of their rights under the city's anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws, and explain how they might go about filing a complaint with the Commission.
David Schreier, an attorney, speaking Spanish to the Fresh Kitchen employees pic.twitter.com/gSHfU5MnDu
— Jake Offenhartz (@jangelooff) May 18, 2018
For their part, employees of the Madison Avenue lunch chain seemed uninterested in filing a complaint against Schlossberg. "We don't want any more trouble at this point," Hyunsik Kong, the manager who confronted Schlossberg in the video, told Gothamist. "We just want to get back to normal."
Another employee, who asked to remain anonymous, added, "We deal with crazy people all the time, and don't pay them any mind. We're okay, really."
After interviewing a few employees, the Commission members quickly departed, leaving behind flyers and contact info. "Clearly discrimination is very personal, so people may not want to initially come forward," said Seth Hoy, the Commission's spokesperson. "But when they do know their rights under the law, it's much easier for them to do so, and that's why we're here today."
Under the city's Human Rights Law, victims can report claims of harassment and discrimination to the Commission's Law Enforcement Bureau, which is made up of more than 50 attorneys. Those attorneys will then investigate the claim, and can prosecute cases which appear to violate the city's civil rights statutes. A wide range of disciplinary actions are then available to the Commission: A cab driver who refuses to pick up a person of color may be compelled to issue a written apology, for example, or an employer who discriminates against a worker may be entered into conciliatory agreement requiring them to pay emotional distress damages to the victim.
While the Commission has been around since 1955, the Bias Response Team—which headed up Friday's drop-in—is only two years old. Created in response to an uptick in hate incidents, the unit serves as the outreach arm of the Commission, with the goal of streamlining the process of filing a complaint. Reports of discrimination have jumped 80 percent throughout the city, and this year alone, the Bias Response Team has reached out to victims of 108 potential hate incidents, according to Hoy.
"In this day and age, I feel like there's more people like [Schlossberg], and it's becoming more blatant," said Yetty Ade, a regular at Fresh Kitchen. "It's just disgusting, coming from a lawyer especially: Who are you to tell someone they can't speak their native language?"
Schlossberg, who has still not spoken publicly about the incident, was last seen sprinting away from reporters outside his Upper West Side residence. (Revisit that video again, below.) A Latin Party has been planned for tonight outside his home—details here.
The lawyer who threatened to call immigration enforcement on workers at a Manhattan cafe earlier this week sprinted away from an NBC News reporter earlier today https://t.co/BCsW1WSWDG pic.twitter.com/rb5A6XZBXF
— NBC New York (@NBCNewYork) May 17, 2018
Update: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Human Rights Commission did not interview any employees of Fresh Kitchen. Some employees were in fact interviewed about the incident. A spokesperson for the Commission could not confirm whether any of those employees will be filing a complaint.