The Department of Justice has launched a federal lawsuit against the School District of Philadelphia claiming that the district discriminated against an employee when it would not allow him to keep his untrimmed beard, which he wore for religious reasons.
Filed Wednesday, the complaint alleges that the school district’s 2010 grooming policy, which states that police and security officers cannot have beards more than a quarter of an inch thick, is discriminatory against people whose long facial hair is part of their religions.
Siddiq Abu-Bakr, a 27-year employee, kept his beard uncut for his entire tenure as a school police officer, due to his Muslim beliefs.
When he said he couldn’t comply with the new grooming policy, he was given a written reprimand and was threatened with “further disciplinary action,” according to the complaint. The DOJ alleges the school district failed to consider accommodating Abu-Bakr’s request and did not show that doing so would cause “undue hardship,” instead responding that the “integrity of the policy” outweighed Abu-Bakr’s request.
Originally, Abu-Bakr filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC's Philadelphia office referred the case to the DOJ after investigating.
"No employee should be forced to violate his religious beliefs in order to earn a living," said Spencer H. Lewis Jr., district director of EEOC Philadelphia.
“Modifying a dress or grooming code is a reasonable accommodation that enables employees to keep working without posing an undue hardship on the employer.”