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October 6, 2010

Motion Denied: Turban Branding Rejected by Federal Judge

(New York, New York) October 6, 2010 - In a week of major legal momentum (see Victory One, Victory Two), a federal judge last week rejected a motion requesting legal sanction for the branding of Sikh turbans with the Metropolitan Transit Authority logo.
At issue in the case is whether the New York City Transit Authority (TA) can force Sikh and Muslim workers to brand their religious headdress with its logo.  The TA cites security concerns post 9/11 as the reason for the policy. 
In March 2005, the United States Justice Department released results from an investigation that found over 200 instances of TA employees wearing headdress without a TA logo over the course of three days. This included TA-issued Russian-style winter hats without a logo. 
The TA nevertheless insists that it must place its logo on Sikh turbans and Muslim hijabs so that they are identifiable as TA workers.  The TA makes this assertion despite the fact that Sikh and Muslim workers worked for the TA successfully for decades before 9/11 without branding their headdress.
The Justice Department filed its own discrimination suit against the Transit Authority in September 2004.  In July 2005, the Sikh Coalition filed discrimination charges  and a subsequent lawsuit on behalf of five Sikh station agents and a Sikh train operator. 
Last week, in a 41 page opinion in the United States' case against the Transit Authority, Judge Sandra Townes of the United State District Court for the Eastern District of New York, rejected the Transit Authority's motion to rule in its favor without trial.

Moving Forward:

Judge Townes essentially rejected the TA's attempt to end the discrimination suit.  Her ruling means that the United States' case against the Transit Authority may proceed to trial. 
The Sikh Coalition, in partnership with its co-counsel at the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Law Offices of Bhalla & Cho will continue to support the individual Sikh clients' claims in federal court till the very end.

Case Timeline:

  • May 2005: Sikh Coalition files Charge of Discrimination with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of Sikh subway conductor.
  • July 2005: Coalition files Charges of Discrimination with the EEOC on behalf of 5 Sikh station agents who were told to brand their turbans with MTA logo. Sikh Coalition, Center for Constitutional Rights, and Bhalla & Cho LLC are co-counsel for Sikh subway conductor and Sikh station agents.
  • July 2005: Coalition files lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Sikh subway conductor. 
  • September 2005: Coalition files lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Sikh station agents.
  • September 2005 - July 2008: U.S. Justice Department and plaintiffs' counsel engage in discovery and preparation of summary judgment papers. U.S. Justice Department deposes and defends the depositions of more than a dozen witnesses and is able to obtain thousands of documents on the Transit Authority's policies and practices. 
  • March 2009Transit Authority files motion to dismiss the Justice Department's case. Justice Department files briefs in opposition.
  • September 2010: Judge Towns denies Transit Authority's motion in its entirety.
Protect Yourself from Religious Discrimination in the Workplace
As always, the Coalition calls on all Sikhs to stand up for their rights and fearlessly maintain their articles of faith.
Information explaining your rights in the workplace:

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