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Feds Suing MTA Over Religious Days Off

Sep 16, 2004 | L.A. Daily News

The U.S. Justice Department has filed a civil rights suit against the MTA, claiming the agency discriminates against bus drivers and other employees by requiring them to be available to work on days of worship.

The suit said Metropolitan Transportation Authority discriminated against bus driver Henry Asher, who is Jewish, because it didn't accommodate his wish to observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

The suit seeks to stop MTA from practicing what it calls unlawful employment discrimination on the basis of religion, as well as asking for monetary damages and other relief for the employees.

"No employer should force its employees to choose between their faith and a job, when reasonable accommodations are possible," said R. Alexander Acosta, assistant attorney general for the department's civil rights division.

MTA spokesman Bill Heard said that because the agency's operations run around the clock, it's necessary for bus drivers particularly junior ones -to make such a commitment.

"Apparently, this gentleman, after being hired and trained decided he was not available for the job," Heard said.

He said the agency's employees understand that they may not be able to get off on Saturdays, Sundays or particular religious holidays until they have enough seniority.

Most of MTA's rank-and-file workers, from bus drivers to mechanics, are represented by unions.

"As you get more senior, then you can bid for days that might give you time off," Heard said.

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