NEW YORK — It was a move meant to calm nervous New Yorkers post 9/11, but the MTA’s policy to keep Sikhs and Muslims with turbans and headscarves out of public view will now come to an end.
On Wednesday, the Sikh and Muslim MTA workers reached a settlement in federal court with the MTA that allows them to wear their turbans freely, without the MTA corporate logo, just as they did before the 9/11 attacks. According to the settlement, the Sikh workers will wear a blue turban to match with their uniform.
The MTA will also adopt a new procedure that allows religious concessions to be made and MTA managers will get extensive training on the transit authority’s new head-dress policy, according to a statement by the Sikh Coalition, which filed the discrimination lawsuit with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Bhalla and Co. against the MTA in 2005.
The Justice Department filed its own suit against the MTA in September 2004, according to the Sikh Coalition statement.
"I am relieved that the policy of branding or segregating Sikh or Muslim workers is coming to an end,” said Sikh train operator Sat Hari Singh in a statement. Singh was one of the six plaintiffs in the case.
“This policy made no sense. It was driven by fear,” he said.
The 7-year case revolves around the MTA’s “brand or segregate policy” which required Sikhs workers with turbans or Muslims with headscarves to either brand their head-dress with a MTA logo or keep out of public view. The MTA had hoped this move would calm skittish New Yorkers after the 9/11 attacks.
There are almost a dozen Sikh MTA workers, according to Amardeep Singh, the program director of the Sikh Coalition.
The MTA's proposal to make the Sikh workers attach the transit authority's logo onto their turbans was also unpalatable to them.
"...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.
However, Amardeep Singh, the program director of the Sikh Coalition said he was glad that “this sad chapter in our city’s reaction to 9/11 has come to an end,” adding that innocent Sikh and Muslim workers were being “punished and segregated for the events of that day.”
“We are ready to turn the page now.”
In a statement, the transit authority said "NYCT believed it had offered reasonable accommodations to its headwear policy to its employees. The existing policy, which was in place long before these lawsuits were filed, was never animated by religious or ethnic bias."