June 1, 2012 (New York, New York) – In a historic victory for religious freedom, Sikh and Muslim transit workers settled a federal lawsuit yesterday challenging a post 9/11 policy which segregated them out of public view. As a result of the settlement, Sikh and Muslim workers may now wear their religious headdress freely — as they did before 9/11 — without fear of segregation or discipline.

At issue in the seven year old federal case was whether New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) could force Sikh and Muslim workers to either brand their religious headdress with its logo — while not requiring the same headwear branding of other workers — or force them to work out of public view.

The MTA cited security concerns after 9/11 as the reason for its “brand or segregate” policy. The MTA insisted the new policy was necessary despite Sikh and Muslim employees working successfully at MTA for decades without such a policy in place.

“I am relieved that the policy of branding or segregating Sikh or Muslim workers is coming to an end,” said plaintiff Sat Hari Singh (aka Kevin Harrington), a Sikh train operator. “The MTA honored me for driving my train in reverse away from the towers on 9/11 and leading passengers to safety. They called me a ‘hero of 9/11.’ I didn’t have a corporate logo on my turban on 9/11. This policy made no sense. It was driven by fear. I’m glad it has come to an end.”

“I worked as a station agent for more than a decade before 9/11. My turban never interfered with my work in any way. I’m happy that I can do my job now without having to worry about this policy hanging over me,” said plaintiff Inderjit Singh, a Sikh station agent.

See historic photos here!

A Note of Thanks The Sikh Coalition thanks the United States Justice Department and its Civil Rights Division for their tireless work in this case. The Department of Justice led the litigation and expended thousands of attorney hours on the case. This victory for religious freedom would not be possible without them. The Coalition also thanks its co-counsel Center for Constitutional Rights and Bhalla & Cho LLC, and in particularly attorneys Shayana Kadidal, Ravinder Singh Bhalla, and Anjana Samant. Most importantly, the Coalition salutes and applauds Sikh train operator Sat Hari Singh (aka Kevin Harrington) and Sikh Station Agents Inderjit Singh, Jatinder Singh Attari, Brijinder Singh Gill, Trilok Singh Arora, and Satinder Singh Arora for standing up to the MTA and standing up for all of our rights.

Case Timeline:

  • May 2005: Sikh Coalition files Charge of Discrimination with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of Sikh subway conductor.
  • July 2005: Coalition files Charges of Discrimination with the EEOC on behalf of 5 Sikh station agents who were told to brand their turbans with the MTA logo. Sikh Coalition, Center for Constitutional Rights, and Bhalla & Cho LLC are co-counsel for Sikh subway conductor and Sikh station agents.
  • July 2005: Coalition files lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Sikh subway conductor.
  • September 2005: Coalition files lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Sikh station agents.
  • July 2008: U.S. Justice Department and plaintiffs’ counsel engage in discovery and preparation of summary judgment papers. U.S. Justice Department deposes and defends the depositions of more than a dozen witnesses and is able to obtain thousands of documents on the MTA’s policies and practices.
  • March 2009: MTA files motion to dismiss the Justice Department’s case. Justice Department files briefs in opposition.
  • June 2009: 27 New York City Council Members organized by the Sikh Coalition call on MTA to end turban-branding policy in a letter to the MTA.
  • September 2010: Judge Sandra Towns denies MTA’s motion in its entirety.
  • May 2012: Parties engage in approximately half a dozen settlement negotiation sessions with Magistrate Judge presiding and ultimately seek help of federal mediator in resolving outstanding concerns.
  • May 2012: Parties enter into settlement agreement ending case.

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