Category: Archive

Irish Sikh in new MTA flap

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

New York City transit officials told Harrington last week that if he did not want to be reassigned for a second time to train yards, he would have to wear a patch with the MTA logo on his turban.
He complied last Wednesday by wearing the patch for one day, and compared it to an advertisement. Harrington, who’s 53, told media that he saw it as tantamount to putting a billboard on St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
The next morning, Harrington reported to work at the Woodlawn station of the 4 train when he had an argument with a station supervisor. Details have varied, but New York Newsday reported that the confrontation led to Harrington being ordered to report to the MTA’s Brooklyn headquarters for a Breathalyzer test. He was walking down the steps for a Brooklyn-bound train when he slipped and fell, injuring his back.
Harrington was taken by ambulance to Bronx’s Montefiore Meical Center, where he was treated and released. He said transit officials then accompanied him to take the Breathalyzer afterward. Harrington maintained that as a practicing Sikh, he has not had alcohol in 25 years.
The only certainty now is that the two still disagree. Harrington is out of work with his injury for an unknown period of time, and the MTA is refusing to loosen their requirements about the patch.
Harrington, a third-generation transit worker, said last week that he was considering joining the lawsuit filed against the MTA by two female Muslim bus drivers who have been reassigned to the depot because of their head coverings, called khimars.
The Department of Justice also filed a separate lawsuit against the MTA, citing discrimination.
Preetmohan Singh, who is the national director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the developments with Harrington “may affect the federal case.”
Harrington is not currently represented by SALDEF, but sought their counsel when his case first surfaced in June. He received a memo written by MTA president Lawrence Router asking that Harrington remove his turban while operating the train or accept the train yard reassignment.
Harrington told the Echo in August that the train yard job was hardly an option.
“I won’t do it,” he said. “I’ll lose a good position as well as a lot of money.”
Harrington had worn the turban without incident for 23 years on the job.
He managed to get his post back, but not before hearing the promise of new uniform guidelines would be looked into by the MTA.
A sensitive post-Sept. 11 climate has been blamed for the MTA’s sudden interest in Harrington’s and other employees’ headdresses, but they have remained relatively mum on the issue aside from issuing new guidelines.
Harrington was kept in limbo for the rest of the year while the MTA met to determine new uniform rules that would apply to everyone.
The patch was the latest compromise from the agency.
“We understand the move was in the name of uniformity and safety,” said Singh, but reasons that the right thing is for all employees to have to adhere the same standards.
Harrington has pointed out that other MTA employees in the public eye regularly wear hats without the MTA logo.
Two Sikh police officers had a similar fight that ended in the compromise of wearing their badges on their turbans. Those officers have said the MTA patch does not have a symbolic meaning like the badge would.
As for now, Harrington’s future with his employer is unknown, though his plight is hardly over.
There are 24 million Sikhs in the world, making it the fifth most practiced religion — 20 million of those live in India, the rest located in places like England, the U.S., and Australia. It is estimated that 500,000 are in the U.S. alone.
Calls to the MTA were not returned by press time.

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