The School District of Philadelphia is being targeted in a lawsuit that alleges it discriminated against an Islamic school police officer who was wearing a long beard because of his religious beliefs.
The lawsuit, filed today by the U.S. Department of Justice, says the school district is in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and has a pattern of religious discrimination. The lawsuit states that Siddiq Abu-Bakr, and other individuals, could not comply with the district's 2010 policy maintaining school police and security officers cannot have a beard longer than one-quarter inch. Abu-Bakr has had a long beard the entire 27 years he has worked in the district, the lawsuit said, and it has not interfered with his job performance. The lawsuit states his religious beliefs should exempt him from the grooming policy.
The complaint also said the school 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, according to the Department of Justice. The district also denied Abu-Bakr's request without making the requisite showing that doing so would cause an undue hardship, according to the news release.
“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.”
The DOJ is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the district to implement a new grooming policy that would prevent employees from religious discrimination. It is also seeking monetary damages for Abu-Bakr and other individuals.