IANS, Mar. 5, 2003
NEW YORK: A Sikh-American has sued the New York Police Department for alleged religious discrimination, saying it fired him for refusing to remove his turban and trim his beard.
Amric Singh Rathour, along with the Sikh Coalition, have filed a federal lawsuit charging the NYPD with religious discrimination and challenging its “no turban policy”.
Filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, the complaint names NYPD commissioner Raymond W Kelly, the NYPD and the City of New York as defendants.
It charges the three of them with religious discrimination, negligence, harassment/intimidation, false imprisonment/retaliation and emotional distress.
The complaint filed in the court details the manner in which Rathour was “repeatedly pressured” to remove his turban. Among other things, he was told that he should “make a change” so that his turban and beard “come off”.
“I felt I was being punished because I am a Sikh,” Rathour said at a press conference.
Present at the press conference were members of the Sikh Coalition, Sikh police officers from Britain and Canada, and representatives from the Muslim, Hispanic and Buddhist communities, all of whom spoke briefly and backed Rathour.
As per the complaint, copies of which were made available to the media, Rathour applied for the position of a level II traffic enforcement agent (TEA) officer of the NYPD in and around late 2000.
The employment duties of Level II TEA officers are limited to preparing and filing of parking summons and directing street and vehicular traffic.
Rathour’s counsel Ravinder Singh Bhalla said as part of the application process, his client had cleared the physical examination, psychological examination, civil service written examination, as well as a background check.
In 2001, Rathour was sworn in as officer of the NYPD, Bhalla said. At the ceremony, in accordance with his religious beliefs, he wore his turban and maintained his uncut beard.
According to Bhalla, at no time prior to or during the course of the swearing in ceremony, did anyone from the NYPD advise Rathour that wearing a turban and maintaining a beard were prohibited by the department in the course of his training and employment.
However, when Rathour arrived for his first day of training, he was told by an NYPD official that TEA officers are required to wear a hat over their head as a mandatory part of their uniform.
When Rathour objected, he was told that he may keep his uncut facial hair, but would have to forego the turban, Bhalla said.
Rathour then submitted a religious accommodation request form to the NYPD’s Equal Employment Office, which was disapproved. He was also held captive in an empty room and told he would not be permitted to attend training classes as “he was not in uniform”, the counsel said.
Rathour said he was born and brought up in New York, and that it was his childhood dream to become a policeman.