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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, June 8, 2009
Justice Department Files Religious Discrimination Lawsuit Against Essex County, New Jersey

The Department filed a lawsuit today against Essex County, N.J., alleging that it discriminated against a Muslim corrections officer on the basis of her religion in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The suit alleges that the county refused to permit Yvette Beshier to wear a religiously mandated headscarf while working as a corrections officer.

Title VII prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin and religion. Its religious discrimination provisions require employers to make a reasonable accommodation of employees’ religious observances and practices. The Justice Department enforces Title VII’s prohibitions against employment discrimination with respect to state and local governments.

According to the complaint, the Essex County Department of Corrections (DOC), first suspended Beshier and then terminated her on the ground that her wearing of a khimar (a head scarf) violated its uniform policy for corrections officers. The complaint alleges that Beshier had requested a religious accommodation that would permit her to wear her khimar, but the DOC denied her request.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court in Newark seeks a court order requiring Essex County to adopt a policy that reasonably accommodates the religious observances and practices of employees and prospective employees subject to the Essex County DOC’s uniform policy for corrections officers. The suit also seeks monetary damages and other relief for Beshier.

"Employees should not have to choose between their religious beliefs and their economic livelihood," said Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "Federal law requires all employers, even those having policies regarding the wearing of uniforms, to reasonably accommodate the religious observances and practices of their employees."

The filing of this lawsuit reflects the Civil Rights Division’s ongoing commitment to actively enforce Title VII’s prohibitions against religious discrimination. In February, the Division obtained court approval of a settlement agreement with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority requiring the authority to adopt a religious accommodation policy to its uniform requirements for bus drivers, and providing relief to a prospective Apostolic Pentecostal employee and two Muslim employees who required religious accommodations. The Division also has a pending suit against the New York City Transit Authority alleging it has discriminated against Muslims, Sikhs and other employees through its uniform policy.

Please visit http://www.usdoj.gov/crt for additional information about the Civil Rights Division and its law enforcement activities.

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