MTA Religious Bias Suit Settled

Times Staff Writer

The U.S. Justice Department has settled a religious discrimination lawsuit it brought against the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority for refusing to accommodate a bus driver who asked for time off to observe the Jewish Sabbath and other holy days, officials said this week.

The complaint, filed a year ago, accused the transit agency of enforcing a rigid and unnecessary policy that required drivers to be available for work at all times.

The suit said the MTA had refused to even consider allowing limited exceptions to the rule to accommodate employees with religious obligations.


Under the terms of the settlement, drivers who are assigned shifts that conflict with their religious commitments will be able to take up to 30 days of unpaid leave while they wait for a favorable shift to open up, MTA spokesman Rick Jager said Wednesday.

Jager said the United Transportation Union, which represents the MTA’s 5,000 drivers, was a party to the agreement.

The union’s contract provides that drivers can bid on routes and shifts twice a year, with preference given to those with seniority.

Jager said he knew of no other case within the MTA of conflict over religious observance and work schedules.

The lawsuit was brought by the Justice Department’s civil rights division on behalf of Henry Asher, 56, of Tarzana, who was hired as a driver trainee June 17, 2002, and discharged a month later after he allegedly missed two days of duty.

According to the MTA, Asher signed a job application in which he agreed to work any day of the week.

Later, the agency said, he requested a schedule that would allow him to be exempt from working from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday and on eight other Jewish holy days.

Asher will receive $20,000 from the MTA as part of the settlement.

“Public employees should not have to choose between their religious beliefs and their livelihood,” said Bradley J. Schlozman, acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, in a statement issued in Washington, D.C.

“While public employers have the authority to set reasonable standards for work schedules, they cannot reflexively refuse to consider an accommodation at the cost of civil rights.”