New York City's transit agency has settled a lawsuit over a dress code that allegedly discriminated against Sikhs and Muslims for more than a decade after 9/11.
The dress code, which critics called a "brand or segregate" policy, allegedly forced Sikh and Muslim workers to make a choice about their religious head coverings: "Brand" them with a Metropolitan Transit Authority logo, or be "segregated" to a less-desirable job out of public view.
The policy was apparently on the books for years, but it wasn't enforced until 2002, in the wake of 9/11, Reuters reports. Ten years later, it's being partly derailed.
Under the New York City transit settlement, Sikh and Muslim workers are now allowed to wear religious head coverings such as headscarves and turbans, but the coverings must be the same blue color as their transit uniforms, Reuters reports.
The Transit Authority will also pay at least $184,500 to eight Sikh and Muslim workers who filed employment discrimination claims.
Claims of religious discrimination on the job are on the rise nationwide, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Between 2010 and 2011, the EEOC saw a 9.5% rise in religious discrimination complaints -- the sharpest increase in any category.
In a statement, an MTA spokesman denied the dress code was discriminatory. He emphasized that the settlement didn't change the "fundamental elements" of the uniform policy.
But the settlement is being welcomed by New York City's Sikh and Muslim transit workers, some of whom were lauded for heroism on 9/11, according to Religion News Service. "This policy made no sense," one plaintiff said. "It was driven by fear."