FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2004
TDD (202) 514-1888
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SUES NEW YORK METROPOLITAN TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY AND NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT AUTHORITY ALLEGING RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Justice Department today announced the filing of a lawsuit against the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) alleging religious discrimination against Muslim, Sikh, and other employees who wear religious head coverings. The complaint alleges that the MTA and the NYCTA have engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against these employees by selectively enforcing their uniform policies and by failing or refusing to reasonably accommodate these employees’ religious practices and beliefs.
“Public employees should not have to sacrifice their religious beliefs to enjoy the same benefits of employment as their coworkers,” said R. Alexander Acosta, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “While public employers have the authority to set reasonable dress standards, they cannot selectively apply them at the cost of civil rights. We will continue to closely monitor public employers to guard against illegal religious discrimination.”
According to the complaint, in early 2002 the MTA and the NYCTA began enforcing uniform policies against Muslim and Sikh employees who wear headscarves or turbans. The MTA and the NYCTA involuntarily transferred these employees to yard or depot jobs where they would not be seen by or interact with the public. These jobs also provide diminished seniority benefits and fewer overtime opportunities. Prior to 2002, many Muslim and Sikh employees had been wearing their religious head coverings without incident. Other employees have routinely worn non-MTA headwear, such as baseball caps, and the MTA and the NYCTA continue permitting them to do so.
The filing of this lawsuit reflects the Civil Rights Division's ongoing commitment to actively enforce federal employment discrimination laws. This is the fourth lawsuit alleging a systematic pattern or practice of employment discrimination by a public employer filed by the Department this year, and the most such cases filed in a single year since 1997.