Hoboken, NJ Elects a Sikh as Mayor
Hoboken, NJ – The city of Hoboken, New Jersey made history on election day this year, by electing New Jersey’s first Sikh mayor ever, Ravi Bhalla, 44. Many Hoboken residents are taking their new mayor’s win as a badge of honor. Bhalla is also notably one of only a few Sikhs to become mayor of any American city.
Upon winning the election, Bhalla happily said, “I feel exhilarated… I didn’t have any expectations one way or another of victory or defeat, I was prepared for both. And I feel very grateful to have the opportunity to serve Hoboken.”
According to the Sikh Coalition, America’s largest Sikh civil rights group, Sikhs are regularly targeted for hate crimes in part “due to the Sikh articles of faith, including a turban and beard, which represent the Sikh religious commitment to justice, tolerance and equality.”
Sikhs stand out because it is a key aspect of their religion to wear the “Five Ks” in order to identify themselves as a member of the Khalsa Panth, an army of the devout.

The “Five Ks” stand for

1) Kesh (uncut hair),

2) Kara (a steel bangle),

3) Kanga (a wooden comb),

4) Kaccha (cotton underwear) and

5) Kirpan (a steel sword).

Unfortunately, since 9/11, Sikh-Americans have faced ongoing discrimination and abuse because their long beards and turbans make them more visible than other minority religious groups. Many Sikhs reported that they felt no safer, 15 years after the terrorist attacks. Case in point, in 2012, a Wisconsin gunman walked into a Sikh place of worship—a “gurdwara”—killing six members.

Bhalla, himself was not immune from discrimination during his Hoboken campaign. Last week flyers appeared around Hoboken showing Bhalla, wearing a traditional turban that is traditional to his faith with the hateful message: “DON’T LET TERRORISM TAKE OVER OUR TOWN!”
“It is not what Hoboken is about, it is not reflective of our community,” Bhalla stated. “It’s just unfortunate.”

Because of their distinct characteristics—like turbans and long beards, Sikh are easily singled out at times for failing to conform to society’s norms. However, Sikh are protected to an extent under Federal law because of their religion in the workplace. While Title VII does not prohibit employment dress or grooming rules, per se, as long as these company rules do not have a “disparate impact” on the applicant or employee. Title VII does require an employer, once the employer becomes aware that a religious accommodation is needed, to accommodate the person who’s sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance conflicts with the employer’s requirements or “appearance policies,” unless doing so would pose an “undue hardship.”
Title VII protects people from discrimination based on their sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs. Likewise, for employees living in the State of New York, or New York City, there are additional protections under state and local legislation.
The experienced New York City sexual harassment attorneys at the Derek Smith Law Group, PLLC have years of experience litigating claims of discrimination. Working together with our Philadelphia sexual harassment attorneys, we have recovered millions on behalf of our clients who were discriminated against because of their gender, religion, race, and disability. If you feel you have been discriminated against, please give our attorneys a call at (800) 807-2209 for your free consultation.

About Derek Smith

Attorney Derek T. Smith is an experienced sexual harassment & discrimination law litigator who has particular experience in the areas of workplace discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful termination, civil rights litigation, employment law and civil litigation.

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