The Department of Justice announced the filing of a lawsuit today against the School District of Philadelphia alleging that the district discriminated against Siddiq Abu-Bakr, as well as other similarly-situated individuals, on the basis of religion in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The lawsuit further alleges that the district’s employment policies constitute a pattern or practice of religious discrimination, also in violation of Title VII.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleges that the district discriminated against Abu-Bakr and similarly-situated individuals by failing to accommodate their religious beliefs after it instituted a new grooming policy in October 2010 that prevented school police officers and security officers from having beards longer than one-quarter inch. Abu-Bakr, a school police officer since 1987, is a member of the Islamic faith, which requires him not to cut his beard. Consistent with his religious beliefs, Abu-Bakr has maintained an untrimmed beard longer than one-quarter inch for the 27 years that he has worked for the district, without evidence that the maintenance of an uncut beard has interfered with his job performance. When Abu-Bakr notified his supervisor that he could not comply with the new grooming policy due to his religious beliefs, Abu-Bakr was issued a written reprimand for violating the policy. According to the complaint, the district failed to consider Abu-Bakr’s request for reasonable accommodation to its grooming policy that would have been in accordance with his religious beliefs, and later denied his request without making the requisite showing that doing so would cause an undue hardship.
Through this lawsuit, the United States is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the district to develop and implement new grooming policies that would prevent its employees from being discriminated against based upon religion, as well as monetary damages for Abu-Bakr and similarly-situated individuals.
“Individuals should not have to choose between maintaining their jobs and practicing their faith when accommodations can be reasonably made,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Jocelyn Samuels. “Federal law requires all employers, even those with grooming and uniform policies, to reasonably accommodate the religious observances and practices of their employees.”
Abu-Bakr originally filed a charge of religious discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office investigated the matter, determined that there was reasonable cause to believe that discrimination had occurred, and referred the matter to the Department of Justice.
“No employee should be forced to violate his religious beliefs in order to earn a living,” said District Director Spencer H. Lewis Jr. of the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office. “Modifying a dress or grooming code is a reasonable accommodation that enables employees to keep working without posing an undue hardship on the employer. We are pleased that the EEOC's collaboration with the Department of Justice protects public employees from religious discrimination.”
The continued enforcement of Title VII is a priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice is available on its website .