In May 2012, after seven years of litigation, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) settled a federal lawsuit initiated by the Sikh Coalition and finally agreed to allow employees to wear their religious headcoverings in full public view without segregation or disciplinary action.

At issue in the lawsuit was whether the MTA could force Sikh and Muslim workers to either brand their religious headcoverings with the MTA logo or be segregated from public view. Notably, other transit workers were allowed to wear secular headcoverings, including baseball caps, without branding them with the agency’s logo. MTA insensitively and illogically invoked post-9/11 security concerns to justify its “brand or segregate” policy for its Sikh and Muslim workers, even though one of its Sikh train operators – Sat Hari Singh – won an award for driving his train in reverse away from the World Trade Center and saving hundreds of lives on 9/11.

Impact
The settlement with MTA vindicated the rights of the courageous Sikh and Muslim transit workers who persevered for seven years while their lawsuit was pending. Their victory also paves the way for future MTA employees to enjoy equal employment opportunity without worrying that they will have to choose between their religion and their job. The Sikh Coalition proudly partnered with the U.S. Department of Justice and Center for Constitutional Rights on this project, and sent a clear message to the nation that we will not tolerate discrimination by anyone – even by government agencies.

Why It Matters
When government agencies engage in discrimination, it gives a green light to private employers to do the same. Instead of setting a high bar, discriminatory behavior by government agencies creates a “race to the bottom.” Given the frequency with which Sikh Americans experience workplace discrimination, we prioritize cases involving government discrimination to ensure that agencies are held accountable and are upholding the highest legal standards.