COURT GRANTS TRIAL FOR MUSLIM WOMAN KICKED OFF MTA BUS BECAUSE SHE WAS WEARING A BURQA

Thursday, November 12, 2015

HEMPSTEAD, NY — The Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington has announced that a Muslim woman will be allowed to have her lawsuit proceed against the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in a religious discrimination lawsuit, thanks to a recent ruling from the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York. The Plaintiff, Maria Louis, alleges in her lawsuit that she was unjustly removed from a public bus for wearing a burqa.

On May 26, 2012, Ms. Louis, a devout Muslim, boarded the Q110 bus in Queens wearing a burqa, which is a veil that covers the entire body and a symbol of Ms. Louis’ religion. She was standing in the passenger area at the front of the bus, one row behind Stephen Wright, a bus driver and an employee with the Metropolitan Transit Authority Bus Company. According to Ms. Louis, Mr. Wright told her she was “scary” and “nobody can see her.” In response, Ms. Louis said she is a Muslim and has a right to practice her religion. She reported Mr. Wright for discrimination when he stopped the bus and ordered her to leave.

Mr. Wright contended he asked her to leave because she was standing beyond the white line and when he asked her to step back, she became angry and accused him of discrimination. He called his dispatcher and told the dispatcher of the situation, but, during the conversation, he never mentioned that she crossed the white line on the bus. The dispatcher told Mr. Wright that a supervisor will come down to assist him, but he drove away before his supervisor arrived. During his conversation with the dispatcher, Mr. Wright said that, because of the way Ms. Louis was dressed, “I don’t know if it is a man; I don’t know if it is a woman; I don’t know what it is” and he was afraid that “she would stab me in the back.”

Two New York City police officers responded to Ms. Louis’ call. After hearing from both Ms. Louis and Mr. Wright, the officers asked Ms. Louis to step off the bus and asked Mr. Wright to produce a free bus pass for her. Ms. Louis complied, albeit grudgingly, and took a cab.

A few days after the incident, Ms. Louis complained to the MTA — via telephone and mail — about Mr. Wright and his discriminatory treatment towards her. On June 22, 2012, Ms. Louis filed a notice of claim against the MTA. Ultimately, Mr. Wright was reprimanded for leaving the scene before his supervisor arrived.

Ms. Louis felt she could no longer ride the Q110 bus because of what happened. Approximately one year later, Ms. Louis moved to Philadelphia. She said she felt safer there because it had a larger Muslim population than New York City. She also testified that the incident left her with physical, mental, emotional and other injuries, as well as trauma, which caused headaches, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and weight loss. As a result, she is unable to read, write, or work, among other things.

On November 6, Senior U.S. District Court Judge I. Leo Glasser upheld Ms. Louis’ First Amendment retaliation claim, stating she was exercising her free speech rights to wear a burqa and, because Mr. Wright chilled the Plaintiff’s exercise of her constitutional rights, she could no longer ride the Q110 bus. The Court also found that Mr. Wright intentionally discriminated against Ms. Louis and inflicted injury on her when she was ejected from the bus.

Frederick K. Brewington and Gregory Calliste, Jr. of The Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington represented the Plaintiff.

###

About The Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington

The Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington is a well-respected litigation firm; with an office in Hempstead, Long Island. Our focus is primarily in the area of civil rights, voting rights, employment discrimination, police misconduct, personal injury, medical malpractice, wrongful death and criminal law. However, the Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington is a full service law firm handling matters in numerous areas of law and providing a wide range of services from contract formation to litigation and trial practice. It is the largest African-American-owned law firm on Long Island and has been designated by the New York Law Journal as one of the top minority-owned firms in the state of New York. For more information, call (516) 489-6959 or visit www.brewingtonlaw.com.