The U.S. Department of Justice this week announced that it has filed a lawsuit against the School District of Philadelphia over a religious discrimination claim. According to the Justice Department, the school district violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by requiring Siddiq Abu-Bakr to cut or shave his beard.
Abu-Bakr has been a school police officer in the Philadelphia school system for 27 years. Throughout that time the man maintained a long untrimmed beard in keeping with his Islamic faith.
In late 2010 the school district implemented a new grooming policy mandating that school police and security officers trim beards linger than one quarter of an inch. Abu-Bakr informed his supervisor that he would not be able to comply with the rule due to his religious beliefs and received a written reprimand for his trouble. The Justice Department is now claiming that the school district failed to provide reasonable accommodation for Abu-Bakr's faith in its grooming policy.
“Individuals should not have to choose between maintaining their jobs and practicing their faith when accommodations can be reasonably made,” said Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. “Federal law requires all employers, even those with grooming and uniform policies, to reasonably accommodate the religious observances and practices of their employees.”
The Justice Department is seeking an injunction against the school district's grooming policy and a declaratory ruling requiring the school district to craft a policy that does not discriminate against employees religious beliefs. Abu-Bakr and "similarly-situated individuals" are could also receive monetary damages as a result of the lawsuit.