The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the School District of Philadelphia, claiming a rule regulating the length of employees’ beards constitutes religious discrimination.
The lawsuit, which was filed last week, states that in October 2010 the school district enacted a new grooming policy preventing school police officers and security guards could not have beards longer than a quarter of an inch. The lawsuit came about after school police officer Siddiq Abu-Bakr’s beard. Abu-Bakr stated that he was discriminated against because he couldn’t trim his beard for religious reasons.
Abu-Bakr, a longtime school police officer, is a member of the Islamic faith, which requires him to let his beard grow, the lawsuit says. He has kept his beard, which is longer than a quarter of an inch, uncut for the 27 years he has worked for the school district, and there’s no evidence it has interfered with his job performance, the lawsuit says.
When Abu-Bakr told his supervisor he couldn’t comply with the district’s grooming policy for religious reasons he was given a written reprimand for violating it, the complaint says.
The Department of Justice said the school district failed to consider Abu-Bakr’s request for reasonable accommodation and then denied it without showing that it would cause undue hardship.
The department, through the lawsuit, is seeking to have the school district implement new grooming policies that would prevent employees from being discriminated against based on religion. It also wants monetary damages for Abu-Bakr and other people in similar situations.
The school district has yet to comment on the lawsuit.