An Israeli couple say they were discriminated against by rental car company Avis.
Dov Bergwerk and his wife Ruth had plans to join friends in Westchester for dinner on Nov. 21, Observer News reported. They visited the Avis in New York City’s Upper West Side to pick up a mid-sized sedan.
Bergwerk, who is a senior vice president and general corporate counsel at the Israeli pharmaceutical company Teva, says he’s rented from Avis several times before. But this time, the transaction did not go as smoothly.
He handed the reservation agent his driver’s license, reservation number and “Wizard” loyalty card. The agent, Angelline, declined Bergwerk’s reservation, claiming that it was company policy not to recognize Israeli documents.
Bergwerk explained to Angelline that he’s a frequent customer at Avis, and that he’s never had a problem before. In fact, he claimed he had rented a vehicle from that very same office just two days earlier.
He asked Angelline to review his profile attached to the Wizard card to confirm his history of business with the company, and branch. Angelline refused.
Branch manager Shamoura was eventually called. She took the side of the reservation agent and told Bergwerk they couldn’t honor his reservation.
With very few options left, Bergwerk called the Avis main number and spoke with customer service. The representative confirmed that the Israeli license was an acceptable form of identification.
Bergwerk put the representative on the phone with the branch manager. Shamoura then reportedly said she was declining service to Bergwerk not because of insufficient documents, but because he had argued about the way he was being treated, and disrespected her authority, according to Tablet Magazine.
“While no direct reference was made to being anti Israel, that was my impression almost from the initial moment I presented my license and credit card as I have done over 15 years of business and leisure travel without ever being challenged,” Bergwerk told Observer News. “The agent stated that the Israeli license did not have the required info in English. I tried to demonstrate that the license had all the required info but she and the manager had no interest.
“Similarly, the fact that I have had many rentals at Avis and at this location was dismissed as having been ‘done by new employees.’”
“Of course it was embarrassing,” added Ruth. “They wouldn’t even open our reservation and see that we have an Avis Wizard number or that we had rented a car from the same location two days before.
“There was no way they would rent a car with that license," she said. "There was no way to reason with them.”
Bergwerk said the branch manager and reservation agent would not even provide their last names or employee ID numbers.
“I felt that something very ugly was going on,” he added. “Discriminated against. When you deny someone a service and they present the ability to pay for that service and they dismiss you like your money isn’t good here, it’s very demeaning.”
The Bergwerks never made it to Westchester that night. Bergwerk said he had to cancel plans to visit a cemetery out of New York the following morning.
Avis issued the following statement regarding the incident:
“On Friday, a customer seeking to rent a car from Avis Car Rental in Manhattan was not allowed to do so because he failed to provide the required documentation. Visitors to the U.S. from other countries must provide both a valid drivers license from their country of residence as well as either a valid International Drivers License or passport in order to rent from Avis. We are aggressively investigating the customer’s allegations regarding the handling of this matter, as we do not tolerate any form of discrimination. So far, our ongoing investigation suggests that this customer is unfairly maligning us with unfounded allegations.”