NEW YORK – Five Sikhs who say the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (search) humiliated them by ordering them to wear MTA logos on their turbans when they work in the subways filed federal discrimination complaints Friday.
The men signed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (search) complaints at a news conference in which their lawyers also announced a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of a sixth Sikh transit worker lauded for his heroism on Sept. 11, 2001 (search).
That worker, Kevin Harrington (search), put his No. 4 train in reverse, backed into the Wall Street station and ushered his passengers to safety across the Brooklyn Bridge after two hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center.
Now, he and the others have been ordered to put the logos on their turbans even though other transit employees who wear Yankees caps, yarmulkes or other head gear are not required to do so, said Amardeep Singh, a lawyer for the men.
Singh said the MTA's order was an ignorant reaction to terrorism.
"It smacks of discrimination to create special rules for Sikhs and Muslims that don't apply to anyone else," he said. "It's very humiliating and an insult to their religious beliefs."
Singh said the Justice Department filed its own discrimination lawsuit against the MTA in September. He said the federal government surveyed MTA employees on three days early this year and found more than 200 instances in which employees wore such head coverings without an MTA logo.
Harrington, who was working and could not attend the news conference, was ordered in June 2004 to wear the logo on his turban or be reassigned to an MTA rail yard, Singh said.
Although protesting, Harrington agreed to wear the logo until the issue could be formally challenged, Singh said.
A phone call for comment to the MTA was referred to NYC Transit, which operates the subways. Mark Groce, an NYC Transit spokesman, said the agency does not comment on litigation.
New York City Councilman David I. Weprin said he introduced a bill in March to bar discrimination by city agencies on the basis of religious headdress. It would have no effect, though, on state agencies such as the MTA.
"It's outrageous," he said, adding that he and others would pursue changes in the law at the state level. "No one should ever have to choose between their religion and their employment."