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New York Transit Agency Settles Religious Headwear Case

The New York City Transit Authority agreed to change its uniform policy to resolve allegations it engaged in religious discrimination against employees who wore head coverings, the U.S. Justice Department said.

The U.S. sued the transit agency in 2004, alleging that it violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by enforcing its policies on uniforms to target Muslims, Sikhs and other employees whose religious beliefs require they wear head coverings, according to a document filed in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, today. The agency runs the city’s subways and buses.

The settlement contains “no finding of fault or liability,” the state Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the agency, said in a statement. The new uniform policy will allow station agents and bus and train operators to wear turbans, headscarves and other headwear in the agency’s standard blue color that don’t bear its official logo.

“New York City Transit believes it had offered reasonable accommodations to its headwear policy to its employees,” the MTA said. “The existing policy, which was in place long before these lawsuits were filed, was never animated by religious or ethnic bias.”

Accommodate Workers

The authority consented not to “selectively enforce uniform policies or take adverse employment actions” against such employees, and also agreed to accommodate workers who can’t comply with uniform policies and work to eliminate policies and practices that discriminate on the basis of religion, according to the court filing.

The authority will adopt new uniform policies that give workers additional options on head coverings and don’t require those who wear specified items such as turbans, yarmulkes or skullcaps to attach anything to them or wear anything on top, according to the court filing.

The agency also agreed not to retaliate against employees or prospective workers who have complained that it has engaged in such discrimination, and to require mandatory training regarding religious discrimination, according to the court document.

The case is U.S. v. New York City Transit Authority, 04-cv-4237, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).

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