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DOJ sues Philadelphia school district over discriminatory beard policy

Suit alleges grooming policy discriminates against employees who don’t trim their beards because of religious reasons.

By Evan Bleier
DOJ sues Philadelphia school district over discriminatory beard policy
Members of the Sikh community who had family and friends killed in the World Trade Center complex destruction by terrorist on September 11th celebrate their lives at "A Prayer For America" ceremonies held September 23, 2001 at New York City's Yankee Stadium. (File/UPI/Ezio Petersen) | License Photo

PHILADELPHIA, March 6 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a complaint in U.S. District Court alleging that the School District of Philadelphia’s grooming policy is discriminatory.

The federal lawsuit claims that the policy discriminates against employees who don’t trim their beards because of religious reasons. District rules currently prevent school police and security officers from having beards that are more than a quarter of an inch long.

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According to the suit, school police officer Siddiq Abu-Bakr’s Islamic faith requires him to allow his beard to grow. He had allowed his beard to grow uncut for 27 years while working for the district before being informed that he had to trim it via a written reprimand. Abu-Bakr was told continuing to violate the policy would result in “further disciplinary action.”

Abu-Bakr filed a religious discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the matter was referred to the DOJ.

“No employee should be forced to violate his religious beliefs in order to earn a living,” Spencer Lewis Jr., the director of the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office, said in a statement. “Modifying a dress or grooming code is a reasonable accommodation that enables employees to keep working without posing an undue hardship on the employer.”

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The Department of Justice’s suit is seeking monetary damages for Abu-Bakr and a change in district policy.

[Philly.com]

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