Sikh woman in New York fights harassment, wins

November 20th, 2008 - 1:00 pm ICT by IANS  

New York, Nov 20 (IANS) After a legal battle lasting more than three years, a Sikh woman here, who faced racial, religious and sexual harassment at her workplace, has forced her employer to not only pay her compensation, but also make changes in its employment policies.”The settlement reached between Sukhbir Kaur and her employer, National Wholesale Liquidators (NWL), sends a strong message to private employers that discrimination against Sikhs is illegal and will be harshly punished,” non-profit organisation Sikh Coalition, said in a statement Wednesday.

In her lawsuit filed with the help of Sikh Coalition, Sukhbir had alleged that in 2004, a store manager of the NWL had harassed her because she was a Sikh, a woman, and an Indian.

She alleged that the manager told her to remove her turban because she “would appear sexier without it”. Sukhbir also said she was harassed by the manager, when she spurned his repeated advances.

Despite her complaints, NWL failed to take appropriate action to address and correct the harassment. Instead, she was fired.

Sukhbir then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which conducted a investigation in 2005. The investigation revealed that many South Asian workers at NWL’s Long Island City store in Queens, New York were being harassed.

Having failed to persuade the NWL to reach a voluntary settlement, both the commission and Sikh Coalition finally filed a lawsuit against it. The case was finally settled late last month with a consent decree filed in the court.

Under this settlement, NWL agreed to pay compensation of $255,000 to the nine victims of harassment, including Sukhbir. It also agreed to make changes to its workplace and policies that would rid the company of discrimination.

Prominent among these changes include adoption of an anti-discrimination policy and complaint procedure approved by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, workplace posters about discrimination, and anti-discrimination training.

“Despite being subject to such degrading, discriminatory treatment, Sukhbir Kaur fought back. Because of her courage, NWL is a better workplace for all of its employees,” said Harsimran Kaur, legal director of Sikh Coalition.

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