Muslim bus drivers confront SEPTA over rules on skirt lengths

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 SEPTA bus drivers April Barnes, Rhonda Blackston and Keasha Paulhill say that long skirts do not hinder their ability to do their jobs. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

SEPTA bus drivers April Barnes, Rhonda Blackston and Keasha Paulhill say that long skirts do not hinder their ability to do their jobs. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A group of Muslim women is fighting for the right to wear ankle-length skirts while driving SEPTA buses.

 

In July, SEPTA bus driver Keasha Paulhill was told to change because her skirt stopped at her ankle.

She was dumbfounded by the request and, with the help of Transport Workers Union 234, filed a grievance. Wearing a shorter skirt or pants violates her religious beliefs.

“Whatever it was that we were supposed to do in our job description, it got done, and I didn’t understand what the problem was,” said Paulhill.

In response, SEPTA ultimately revised its uniform policy. It now states that women can wear skirts that are two to four inches below the knee.

Paulhill and other Muslim bus drivers say that’s not long enough.

“Our book subscribes that we cover ourselves to where no one can see or reveal our shape. We can’t make adjustments just for a job, but we have been doing that and now we’re just sick of it,” said April Barnes.

The discrimination suit now includes more than a half-dozen SEPTA bus drivers. It heads to arbitration as another religious discrimination case wraps up.

Last October, a SEPTA custodian was fired for refusing to work on Jewish holy days.

Romel McAlpin is an active member of the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ, a sect that observes certain Jewish holidays.

According to an August legal brief, the Germantown man lost his job as a custodian after he didn’t show up on Rosh Hashanah or on Oct. 12 in observance of Shabbat, which runs each week from Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown.

SEPTA denied McAlpin’s request to have those days off, but said he could swap days with a less senior employee because that wouldn’t “circumvent” the union’s contract with SEPTA.

He was able to find a fix, but only temporarily.

McAlpin is now negotiating with the agency and is expected to get his job back.

SEPTA did not reply to a request for comment.

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