On May 28, 2019, Sawinder Singh – a 45-year old observant Sikh father and bus supervisor – successfully settled a multi-year dispute against the Montgomery County Public School District (MCPS) with the help of attorneys from the Sikh Coalition and Public Justice.
Mr. Singh endured nearly a decade of racial and religious harassment in the workplace by students, colleagues and supervisors. The relentless insults of Mr. Singh and his articles of faith included threats to cut his hair and references to “Osama bin Laden,” “al Qaeda” and the “Taliban.” In one instance, after the news announcement of bin Laden’s death, a former colleague said, “How did they let you back in the country? Osama bin Laden was killed.”
Mr. Singh is no stranger to trauma. A survivor of the 1984 attacks under Operation Bluestar at the Golden Temple, he endured the harassment at MCPS because, as a new immigrant when he was hired, Mr. Singh sought the stability and security of working for a government agency that was close to home. But when the continued harassment became unendurable to him, he contacted the Sikh Coalition for assistance. In 2016, the Sikh Coalition filed a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Mr. Singh’s behalf, and later joined co-counsel Public Justice to resolve his concerns with MCPS’ general counsel.
In May 2019, MCPS and Mr. Singh came to an agreement addressing the issues of harassment he endured. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, MCPS will work with the Sikh Coalition and Public Justice to develop a working group to review and consider changes to MCPS’ current training initiatives, along with staff and student feedback on school and workplace climate, with a goal of improving cultural competencies including Sikh awareness.
These awareness trainings ensure that all MCPS employees are competent in understanding the backlash members of the Sikh faith have dealt with and continue to deal with when faced with bias in the workplace.
Our aim in fighting these cases is to achieve precedent underscoring that employers must address incidents of bias based hostility, harassment, bigotry and racism that affects their employees in the workplace.
WHY IT MATTERS
Although federal law prohibits employers from ignoring harassment and discrimination in the workplace on the basis of an employee’s race or religion, many employers fail to adequately address these issues when they arise. Such practices adversely impact Sikhs, as well as other racial, religious and ethnic minorities. Our goal is to set a positive precedent that employers cannot ignore this type of bias-based harassment against Sikhs and other minorities, and to work proactively with employers when possible to address these concerns.