Last week, the United States Department of Justice agreed to settle its religious discrimination suit against New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). The suit charged the agency with discriminating against Muslim and Sikh employees who wear turbans and head scarves for religious reasons.
The proposed settlement makes no findings of fault. However, it would permit those workers to wear the religious garments in the MTA's uniform color: plain, solid navy blue. In addition, the settlement requires the agency to pay $184,500 to eight present and former employees and to adopt new policies to reasonably accommodate employees' religious practices.
The Justice Department brought the suit in 2004 after the MTA barred four Muslim women from driving buses and reassigned them to depots because they refused to wear regulation caps over their head scarves. The agency claimed it was simply enforcing its dress code.
Charges brought by the bus operators had initially been dismissed after an investigation by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). An independent arbitrator also ruled against the women, concluding that the transit agency had properly accommodated them by giving them alternative jobs. However, the Justice Department disagreed after conducting its own investigation. In its 2004 suit, the Justice Department accused the MTA of selectively enforcing the code to target Muslims and Sikhs in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
According to one MTA employee, scrutiny of his turban began in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The employee had actually been commended for helping his passengers to safety when the World Trade Center towers collapsed. But in 2004, the man claims that his superiors asked him to remove his turban, stating that passengers might not recognize him as an employee during an emergency.
Title VII requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of employees. The law protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs. If you believe you are the victim of religious discrimination in the workplace, don't delay in contacting an attorney.
Source: Wall Street Journal, "MTA Settles Bias Lawsuit," Ted Mann, May 30, 2012