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Judge rules in favor of turban-wearing officer

Complaint: NYPD didn't reasonably accommodate Sikh's faith

From Anne Castellani

New York
Civil Rights

NEW YORK (CNN) -- An administrative law judge has found the New York Police Department guilty of religious discrimination by banning a Sikh police officer from wearing a turban while on the job.

Jasjit Singh Jaggi, a former traffic enforcement agent with the department, filed the complaint with the city's Commission on Human Rights in June 2002. He said the department discriminated against him because it didn't provide "a reasonable accommodation of his religious belief."

Judge Donna Merris ruled that the police department violated the New York City Human Rights Law and Title VII of the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964. She said the department had not proved its claim that allowing Jaggi to wear the turban on duty "would impose an undue hardship on the department."

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the department will "most likely" challenge the ruling.

"We're going to take a hard look at this decision," he said. "This is an administrative judge. It can now go into a more formalized state court proceedings, and we'll take a hard look at that, but I believe there is a benefit to the public and to officers in uniformity in appearance. And I think that's going to be kind of a governing thought, you might say, as we go forward."

After the ruling Wednesday, Jaggi said he planned to return to the police department in the "near future."

"I'm very much happy with the judge's decision" he said.

According to court documents:

On September 21, 2001, his first day of training, Jaggi was told neither his turban nor his beard were permitted by the NYPD's uniform policy. After graduating as the valedictorian of his training class in January 2002, he began working as a traffic enforcement agent.

Jaggi said he felt humiliated and ashamed because "I was not doing what I'm supposed to do according to my religion."

He repeatedly asked for permission to wear the turban but was rejected, and finally filed the human rights complaint.

On August 26, 2002, Jaggi wore his turban to work and was told by his supervisor he would be fired if he continued to do so. Jaggi then quit his job, and moved his family to Killington, Vermont, where he runs a hotel.

Jaggi, who emigrated from India in 1988, expressed his love for the United States after the decision.

"I respect it's the land of opportunity," he said. "You work hard here, and you can be whatever. You work hard and justice prevails. I had a feeling in my heart that one day justice would prevail."

Sikhs in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the British army are permitted to wear turbans as part of their uniforms.

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