A man whose Sikh faith requires him to wear a beard and turban is suing an airport shuttle company, claiming he was denied a job because of his religion.
In the 11-page lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for Southern Indiana, Inderjit Singh claims Air Serv Corp., which provides shuttle bus services at airports across the country, rejected his application to be a driver because he wouldn’t work without his turban and beard.
“I just want to work and earn a living, but Air Serv refused to give me a chance even after they understood that a turban and a beard are an integral part of my faith,” Singh said in a statement from attorneys at California-based Public Justice.
The 25 million Sikhs in the world and 500,000 in the U.S. follow a peaceful religion, “but there have been threats and acts against them, confusing them with terrorists, since the events of September 11,” said his local attorney, Kimberly D. Jeselskis.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated Singh’s complaint and found that he “was denied employment because (the company) was unwilling to accommodate his need to wear a turban and beard.” The EEOC finding is included in court filings.
Air Serv’s attorney and personnel supervisor in Atlanta did not return calls for comment Wednesday.
According to the suit, company managers in Indianapolis denied Singh a driver’s job because he would not comply with the company’s grooming policy. That policy generally prohibits beards and headwear except hats that are part of a uniform.
Singh applied for the shuttle-driving job in late October 2007. He completed the written application at the Air Serv offices on the Westside of Indianapolis. He also passed the required drug test and a security check by Air Serv before an Indianapolis company official said he was not hired.
Singh, 51, claims in the suit that his religion requires Sikh followers to strictly observe several practices with regard to their appearance. He may not cut his hair, including facial hair. He claims he has never cut his hair and has kept it covered since he was a child.
Singh received a college education in India before moving to the U.S. and living many years in the Washington area, then moving to the Indianapolis area about three years ago, according to his attorneys. He is a U.S. citizen.
Jeselskis said Singh worked without a problem in similar jobs at Washington Dulles International Airport.
Indianapolis International Airport officials said the airport management does not get involved in hiring decisions by independent contractors.
The suit, which alleges violations of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination based on race, religion and other factors, asks for back pay for the two years since his application, plus punitive damages.
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