MTA badges no longer required on Sikh turbans

City Councilman Mark Weprin (second from r.) and Mayor Michael Bloomberg (c.) participate in the signing ceremony for the Workplace Religious Freedom Act. Photo courtesy Michael Bloomberg
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After years of lawsuits, an agreement has been reached providing that Sikh and Muslim transit workers will not have to wear MTA badges on their headgear.

It all began when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority issued a policy statement in 2002 requiring workers who wore Sikh turbans or Muslim khimars to work out of the public eye. In some cases, employees were taken off bus routes to carry out work in depots.

In 2004, employees were permitted to wear headgear but only with the MTA logo pinned on them, which some workers saw as disrespectful to their religion.

The U.S. Department of Justice, which had filed suit against the MTA, said that under the agreement the agency would pay $184,000 to eight current or former workers who had been “denied religious accommodat­ion” in the former policy.

MTA officials said the change in policy permits employees to wear turbans on the job if they match the blue of the agency uniform.

The dispute goes back to a policy that took effect after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center, after which Sikhs and Muslims were required to either wear headdresses with the MTA emblem or accept duty that was out of the view of the public.

Amardeep Singh, director of the Sikh Coalition, said “the policy made absolutely no sense. I think it was the result of people’s fears of Muslims 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 ‘MTA-approved’ Muslim or Sikhs.”

The agreement covers khimars, yarmulkes, turbans, kufis, skullcaps and head scarves as long as they are blue to match MTA informs.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at or phone at 718-260-4536.

Posted 12:00 am, June 9, 2012
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