U.S. sues Philly school district over beard policy

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The U.S. Department of Justice has filed suit against the Philadelphia School District over a grooming policy it says violates employees’ religious freedom.

The agency filed the Title VII challenge on behalf of a Muslim school police officer who was asked to trim his beard.

The Philadelphia district implemented a grooming policy for school safety officers in 2010 limiting beards to a quarter inch. The lawsuit says that Siddiq Abu-Bakr, who had been working for the district for two decades, told his supervisor that cutting his beard would violate his religious beliefs.  

Abu-Bakr initially filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to the suit.

The Justice Department alleges the district discriminated against Abu-Bakr by reprimanding him. 

“Individuals should not have to choose between maintaining their jobs and practicing their faith when accommodations can be reasonably made,” said Jocelyn Samuels of the DOJ.

The lawsuit alleges that other employees have been forced to cut their beards in violation of their religious beliefs.

A school district representative said Thursday the district has not received a copy of the suit and could not comment.

Abu-Bakr still works for the district and still has not trimmed his beard.

The EEOC issued new reference guides today for employers and employees on religious garb in the workplace.

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