BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – A post-Sept. 11 policy barring transit workers from wearing turbans came to an end on Wednesday, as the New York City Transit Authority settled two lawsuits filed on behalf of Sikhs and Muslims.
In 2004, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice filed a federal complaint against an MTA policy that forced Sikh and Muslim employees to brand their headdresses with corporate logo or work outside of the public view.
Though the policy had long been on the books, Justice Department investigations found that the agency selectively enforced it on Sikh and Muslim workers after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
Six Sikh workers, represented by several civil rights groups, filed a separate lawsuit in the same Brooklyn court over the same policy in 2005.
While the MTA cited “security concerns,” Sikh workers called that a pretext for workplace religious discrimination.
According to the terms of the settlement, the transit authority must adopt new policies, and train their staff under those terms.
In total, eight transit workers who have claimed discrimination under the policy will share an award of $184,500. The parties stipulated that any other employee who suffered discrimination under the former policy will receive “appropriate relief.”
Plaintiff Sat Hari Singh, a train operator who also goes by the name Kevin Harrington, applauded the deal.
“I am relieved that the policy of branding or segregating Sikh or Muslim workers is coming to an end,” Singh said in a statement through the Sikh Coalition. “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.”
Lawyers for the transit workers have 60 days to seek attorneys’ fees, according to a stipulation dismissing the case.
Government lawyers urged U.S. District Judge Sandra Townes to approve the terms of the settlement in a related filing today.