Ban on Black Lives Matter face masks is unconstitutional, court finds

The transit agency’s dress code banning political and social expressions was ruled a violation of employees’ right to free speech.

Pittsburgh Regional Transit employees’ right to wear Black Lives Matter masks during shifts has been upheld following a federal appellate court ruling that deemed the agency’s previous ban unconstitutional.

Three PRT employees initially accused the transit agency of violating their First Amendment rights in Sept. 2020 following its updated uniform policy banning clothing or accessory items expressing opinions of political or social protest, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

A lawsuit filed by the union representing PRT workers was later approved in 2021 by U.S. District Judge Nicholas Ranjan, whose ruling was upheld Wednesday by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the outlet reported

The transit agency, formerly known as Port Authority of Allegheny County, claimed the expression of political or social statements by employees could cause disruptions, particularly with patrons who held differing beliefs.

The federal three-judge panel on Wednesday disagreed with PRT’s stance, ruling that the expression of personal opinion by the agency’s employees is protected by their rights as citizens, whether or not they are on the job.

Sasha Craig, who was terminated from PRT in 2020 after three decades of service, alleged that the firing was a result of him wearing a BLM mask on the job — and that the agency wrongfully attributed the firing to timesheet fraud, per WPXI

“They said I stole five and a half hours of overtime and through three days of testimony, the truth actually came out,” Craig told the outlet after the termination was found to be illegal.

He claimed that the agency had “strong-armed” employees for many years during similar disputes, and staffers had to eventually put their foot down.

Black Lives Matter on face mask. Adobe Stock.

“Port Authority, at the end of the day, they can’t take my pension, my lifetime medical, so really what this was about was about a vendetta,” Craig told the outlet. “At the end of the day, I’m going to stand up for what I believe is right.”

Judge Ranjan in 2021 granted a request from the Amalgamated Transit Union representing PRT staffers which countered the agency’s ban on expressions of political and social substance, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Per WPXI, PRT has since relaxed its dress code in accordance with the ruling upheld by the federal panel on Wednesday.

Reached for further comment on the matter, PRT responded to the outlet that it will be “withholding comment at this time.”

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