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August 23, 2019

Cuomo signs law barring discrimination based on religious attire or facial hair

August 13, 2019

Kevin Harrington, a subway motorman with the MTA, at the Woodlawn Station in the Bronx where he finished his shift on Wednesday, January 5, 2004. (Chevrestt, Angel/for New York Daily News)

ALBANY — Gov. Cuomo signed new legislation Friday prohibiting employee discrimination based on religious attire or facial hair.

Known as the “Religious Garb Bill,” the measure puts the onus on an employer to show that appearance, such as facial hair, or the wearing of religious items, such as turbans, yarmulkes or hijabs, would present a hazard or prevent a worker from doing his or her job.

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“As New Yorkers we celebrate our diversity and we champion freedom of religious expression in all places, including the workplace,” Cuomo said. “This law will protect people from discriminatory employment practices based on religious attire or facial hair and makes it crystal clear to anyone who may still have doubts that New York has zero tolerance for bigotry of any kind.”

The legislation was inspired by Kevin Harrington, a now-retired Metropolitan Transportation Authority subway operator who was directed to remove his turban or brand it with an agency logo back in 2004.

Harrington, who is Sikh, sued the MTA and won his case.

“I’m happy that it passed,” Harrington said. “I’m glad that we have religious freedom in New York State and I give Gov. Cuomo kudos.”

Assembly Member David Weprin (D-Queens) first introduced the bill in 2011 when the Sikh Coalition worked with the City Council to enhance religion-based protections for employees in the five boroughs.

The state bill passed the Assembly every year since 2013, but stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. With Dems in power in both houses and Sen. John Liu (D-Queens) as the sponsor, the measure was finally sent to Cuomo in April.

“The historic religious garb bill makes it clear that New Yorkers will not tolerate any discrimination against people of faith in the workplace,” Weprin said. “At a time when instances of bigotry and hate are increasing, it is our duty to stand up for each other’s rights and dignity. No New Yorker should have to choose between their profession and their religious beliefs.”

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