A Muslim police officer complains after being told to trim beard.
By Deepak Chitnis
WASHINGTON, DC: The US Department of Justice has initiated a lawsuit against the School District of Philadelphia over allegations that a new policy prohibiting beards to be grown past a certain length is a violation of civil rights.
According to a release put out by the Justice Department, the entire brouhaha began with Siddiq Abu-Bakr, a police officer who has been employed by the school district since 1987. Because of his religion â€“ he is a Muslim – Abu-Bakr keeps an untrimmed, unshorn beard, but in October of 2010, the school district created a policy forbidding beards that are longer than one-quarter of an inch.
Abu-Bakr appealed to his supervisor that he would be unable to comply with the new rule, asking for a reprieve from it. Instead, he was issued a written reprimand. Abu-Bakr later filed a complaint against the district, saying that it was unwilling to hear his case and was therefore violating the tenets of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Now, Abu-Bakr has the US Department of Justice behind him. In a statement released by the DoJ, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Jocelyn Samuels said, â€œIndividuals should not have to choose between maintaining their jobs and practicing their faith when accommodations can be reasonably made. Federal law requires all employers, even those with grooming and uniform policies, to reasonably accommodate the religious observances and practices of their employees.â€
Under the terms of the suit, which was filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the plaintiffs are requesting that the school district modify its policies with regards to the grooming of facial hair, and that that district provides monetary compensation to Abu-Bakr and all others in his situation who have been affected by the rule change.
â€œNo employee should be forced to violate his religious beliefs in order to earn a living,â€ said District Director Spencer H. Lewis Jr., of the EEOCâ€™s Philadelphia District Office, in the same DoJ press release.Â â€œModifying a dress or grooming code is a reasonable accommodation that enables employees to keep working without posing an undue hardship on the employer.Â We are pleased that the EEOC’s collaboration with the Department of Justice protects public employees from religious discrimination.â€
The School District of Philadelphia has not yet released any statement on the matter.
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