WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department today announced it has filed a lawsuit against Berkeley School District, Berkeley, Ill., alleging that the school district violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of Safoorah Khan, a Muslim teacher at McArthur Middle School.
The government’s complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago, alleges that Ms. Khan requested an unpaid leave of absence in December 2008 to perform Hajj, a pilgrimage required by her religion. According to the complaint, Berkeley School District denied Ms. Khan’s request because the purpose of her leave was not related to her professional duties nor was it leave for any of the specific purposes set forth in the Professional Negotiations Agreement between the district and the teachers’ union. The United States further alleges that, because Berkeley School District denied her a religious accommodation, the district compelled Ms. Khan to choose between her job and her religious beliefs, and thus forced her discharge.
The lawsuit is based on a charge of discrimination filed by Ms. Khan with the Chicago District Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). After investigating Ms. Khan’s charge, finding reasonable cause to believe that Berkeley School District had discriminated against Ms. Khan, and unsuccessfully attempting to conciliate the matter, the EEOC referred the charge to the Department of Justice. More information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.
In the lawsuit, the United States seeks an order requiring Berkeley School District to adopt a policy designed to reasonably accommodate the religious observances, practices and beliefs of employees and prospective employees. In addition, the United States seeks back pay, compensatory damages and reinstatement for Ms. Khan.
"Employees should not have to choose between their religious practice and their livelihood," said Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "Federal law prohibits employers from treating employees and applicants less favorably because of their religion, and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for the religious beliefs and practices of their employees."
"The EEOC is committed to ensuring that individuals are protected from religious discrimination at work," said Jacqueline A. Berrien, Chair of the EEOC. "We are pleased to foster this important collaboration with the Department of Justice to enforce the laws that ensure our workplaces are free of bias."
This is the first lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice as a result of a pilot project designed to ensure vigorous enforcement of Title VII against state and local governmental employers by enhancing cooperation between the EEOC and the Civil Rights Division.
The filing of the lawsuit reflects the Civil Right’s Divisions ongoing commitment to actively enforce federal employment discrimination laws. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice is available on its website at www.usdoj.gov/crt.