Clothing choice could cost taxi cab driver his job

ST. LOUIS - Is it a case of harassment and religious discrimination or a simple dress code violation?

On Friday, a local cab driver will learn whether he'll lose his job for wearing traditional Muslim attire while on the job.

Raja Naeem says he wears a kurta and shalwar out of his deep religious convictions. But that attire is apparently illegal for taxi cab drivers. In December of 2012, while on an airport run Naeem says he was arrested for what he was wearing.

"They handcuffed me in the back. I've never been handcuffed ever in my life. But, it's going to be okay," he said.

Naeem filed a complaint with Missouri's Human Rights Commission and a lawsuit, and ever since then, he says he's been hassled, arrested, ticketed 34 times, and most recently, the Commission revoked his license.

"What is at stake is more than his livelihood. What is at stake is the same thing that was at stake when Rosa Parks refused to get off the bus," said his attorney, Drew Baebler.

His attorney went to court and got a temporary stay, meaning Naeed could work as long as he showed proper ID when asked.

Here is what happened when he went to pick up a customer two weeks ago at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. He was not wearing the required white shirt and black pants. He was in his kurta.

Naeed: "I need to pick up my customer."

Security: "You are not picking up any customers out of uniform and I highly recommend you leave before the police department shows up."

Naeed: "So you are calling police on me?"

Security: "Yes, you've been trespassed on airport property out of uniform."

Naeed: "I'm trespassing?"

Security: "When you are out of uniform you are trespassing."

The director of the Taxicab Commission couldn't talk to NewsChannel 5 because of the suit. But according to one document Director Ronald Klein wrote, "We understand that all followers of Allah follow the Prophet Mohammed, however, we need to know who your local leader is—otherwise we will rely solely upon our own expert as to whether you are compelled by your religious to deviate from the dress code as described in the Vehicle for Hire Code."

One year ago the Commission granted Naeed a religious waiver, saying he could wear the kurta, as long as it lands above his knees and as long as he wears black slacks. That's a problem since kurtas typically land below the knees and Naeed says it is offensive and inappropriate to mix and match.

All Naeed says he wants to do is earn a living and support his family. He also points out, he is a U.S. citizen and knows his constitutional rights.

NewsChannel 5 will be at the hearing Friday and will let you know if the judge agrees with the commission and revokes his license.


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