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Sikh postman wins turban battle at Walt Disney World

By Amy R. Connolly
Sikh postman wins turban battle at Walt Disney World
Gurdit Singh, a Sikh postal worker at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., won the right to wear a turban and long, tied beard in view of theme park visitors. Image from The Sikh Coalition/YouTube

ORLANDO, Fla., July 10 (UPI) -- A Sikh mail carrier at Walt Disney World won a seven-year battle for the right to wear a turban and a long, tied beard in keeping with his religious beliefs while working at the theme parks.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the theme park, located in Orlando, Fla., reversed its longstanding "look" policy that took Gurdit Singh out of public view while wearing a turban and long beard. The policy prohibited him from delivering mail to anywhere besides the corporate offices. Singh said the policy change gives "me back my dignity and basic rights to practice my faith freely in the workplace."

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"Racial or religious-based segregation has no place in our society. No one should have to face daily humiliation because of his or her religious beliefs," he said in a written statement. "I am also grateful to Disney and hope this decision opens the door for other Sikhs and religious minorities who wish to work for this company."

Singh began working for Disney in 2008 and was quickly told he would not be allowed to be in the public eye because of his appearance, unlike other Disney mail carriers who rotate the positions every three weeks or so. After trying to privately appeal to Disney executives to no avail, Singh contacted the ACLU and the Sikh Coalition, a New York-based Sikh-American advocacy group, earlier this year.

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The ACLU argued Singh's segregation forces him to undergo a greater workload, created animosity among his coworkers and precluded professional advancement.

"Mr. Singh feels that his employer and colleagues are punishing him," the ACLU said, adding he feels "singled-out, humiliated, and ashamed because of the way he looks and what he believes."

"Disney's treatment of Mr. Singh is not compatible with a company that claims to celebrate diversity and aims to attract visitors from all over the world, including many turbaned Sikhs. It also violates federal law," the ACLU said.

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In 2012, Disney changed its policy to allow beards no longer than a quarter-inch long. In 2010 and 2012, the company allowed two Muslim employees to wear hijabs while working at the theme parks.

The Sikh Coalition applauded the move as a victory for equal rights. Attorney Gurjot Kaur said the change may usher in additional changes for others of the Sikh faith.

"Disney was segregating an employee because of how he looks," she said. "We welcome Disney's decision to reverse course and we look forward to this paving the way for other Sikh Americans to wear their articles of faith publicly in jobs at Walt Disney World."

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