Ex-Traffic Agent To Sue NYPD

A former traffic agent who was fired from the NYPD for refusing to remove his turban or cut his beard, tenets of his Sikh religious beliefs, will file a civil rights lawsuit Tuesday in a move that could ultimately change the traditional appearance of the nation’s largest and most storied police force.

The Sikh Coalition will file a federal lawsuit on behalf of Amric Singh Rathour, 26, of Ozone Park, in Manhattan’s federal court claiming that the NYPD’s turban prohibition and strict beard regulations constitute unlawful employment discrimination, according to Prabhjot Singh, spokesman for the nonprofit organization promoting Sikh culture.

Amric’s lawsuit, at long last, will give the Sikh community its day in court, Rathour’s attorney Ravinder Singh Bhalla said. It has come down to a point where this case is not about safety, recognizability, esprit de corps, it comes down to discrimination, a stubborn agency that refuses to listen. If Sikh officers in other countries are serving honorably, how is New York City any different?

Rathour was sworn in as an NYPD traffic agent on June 18, 2001. But soon after starting his training, a supervisor approached told him he was in violation of the department’s guidelines that allow beards of no more than 1 millimeter in length and require that any religious headwear fit completely under the traffic agent eight-point hat without any articles visible.

Rathour’s attempts to be granted religious accommodation were denied and on Aug. 27, 2001 he was fired after refusing to remove his beard and turban.

I feel kind of betrayed, he said. I thought this was my country. I was born and raised here, I never felt I was different than anyone else. But after this, the way the city has treated me, it makes me feel inferior.

Rathour has been working for an express parcel delivery service at Kennedy Airport. In addition to regaining his job, the lawsuit will seek any monetary loss Rathour suffered and attorney fees.

I want Sikhs to know in the community and world that we have a place here in the United States where we’re welcomed and where we’re treated equally, he said.

Corporation Counsel spokeswoman Kate O’Brien Ahlers said the city hasn’t been served with the lawsuit yet and can’t comment on it until they’ve had a chance to evaluate it.