To Settle Lawsuit, MTA Changes Post-9/11 Turban and Headdress Policy

The Metropolitan Transit Authority has ended its post-9/11 policy of requiring its Sikh and Muslim workers who wear religious headdress to either brand their turban or headscarves with an MTA logo or work out of public view, Stephon Johnson of the Amsterdam News reported. The change came as the result of a settlement reached in a federal court last week in a lawsuit that Sikh and Muslim transit workers filed against the MTA in 2005.

Sikh and Muslim transit workers can now wear their headdress freely - without an MTA logo - in a settlement reached with the transit authority on Wednesday. (Photo: The Sikh Coalition via DNAinfo)

“I am relieved that the policy of branding or segregating Sikh or Muslim workers is coming to an end,” said 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.” Singh was a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The settlement, under which MTA employees can freely wear their religious headgear as long as they are blue, will affect around a dozen Sikh MTA employees, as well as Muslim employees who cover their heads, DNA Info reported. Many called the policy that became known as “brand or segregate” offensive and discriminatory.

“…the average American would find it absurd to attach a corporate logo to a yarmulke, and the turban is no less significant to Sikhs as a symbol of religious faith,” said Shayana Kadidal, a Senior Managing Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

According to Huffington Post, the MTA will pay the six Sikh employees who brought the lawsuit a sum of $87,500 under the settlement. Three Muslim workers will also receive an undisclosed amount of money. But it’s the policy change that’s the real victory, advocates said.

“This was the back-of-the-bus solution,” said Amardeep Singh, a Sikh-American community spokesman who compared the agency’s dealings with the employees to the pre-civil rights practice of seating black Americans at the back of public buses.

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