Updated 05/30/2012 11:49 PM
MTA Eases Turban Rules Under Revised Employee Dress Code
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Sikh and Muslim workers employed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will once again be allowed to wear religious headdress freely on the job.
The agency agreed to revise its dress code to settle a federal lawsuit which claimed the agency discriminated against workers who wear turbans and other forms of headwear.
MTA officials say their new policy allows workers to wear turbans as long as they match the blue color of the MTA uniform.
This reverses a policy that was enforced after the September 11th attacks that forced Sikh and Muslim workers in the MTA to either brand their headdress with the agency's logo or work out of public view.
The MTA previously justified the rule, saying that standardized uniforms help customers quickly identify transit employees.
"The policy made absolutely no sense. I think it was the result of people's fears of Muslim or anyone who looked Muslim after 9/11, and so the MTA's way of dealing with that issue was to brand us with their logo to make us 'MTA-approved' Muslim or Sheiks," said Amardeep Singh, the director of programs at The Sikh Coalition.
Kevin Harrington, a Sikh train operator who was honored for his heroic efforts on September 11th, was at the forefront of a seven-year court case that eventually included nine other Sikh and Muslim plaintiffs.
"On 9/11, I evacuated hundreds of people and none of the New Yorkers had any problem recognizing me just as a another New Yorker working here doing his job, not a Muslim terrorist," said Harrington.
The U.S. Justice Department investigated the policy, found that the MTA was allowing other groups to wear baseball hats and sued the MTA for discrimination.
"They should be questioned on that, why we sustained people who spent thousands and thousands of dollars in public money on legal defenses to have a policy that attacks diversity in New York City," said Harrington.
MTA officials also agreed to pay the workers who brought the suit more than $180,000 and they may have to pay the plaintiffs' legal expenses as well.
The MTA has not said when the new policy will take effect, but transit officials say there was no finding of fault and the old policy was never motivated by religious of ethnic bias.