The Low Post News

School District in Philly Accused of Bias

The school district of Philadelphia has been accused by the Justice Department via a federal lawsuit of discriminating against an employee that said it was against his religious beliefs to trim his beard.

The complaint, which was filed on Wednesday alleges that in October of 2010 the Philadelphia School District instituted a new grooming policy that prevented the police in the school and its security officers from having their beards a quarter of an inch or more in length and that discriminated against people including Siddiq Abu-Bakr by not accommodating the religious they held.

The district is the eight largest in the nation and a spokesperson did not return messages seeking any comments on the pending lawsuit.

Abu-Bakr a veteran police officer in the school district is Islamic, which requires he let his beard grow, said the lawsuit.

His beard, which is over a quarter inch in length, has been kept uncut for more than 27 years that he worked in the school district. The lawsuit added that there was no evidence the beard had interfered with his performance on the job.

Abu-Bakr spoke to his supervisor about the regulation saying he could not comply with the grooming policy of the district due to religious reason. He received a written reprimand for a violation of the policy, said the court complaint.

The Justice Department said the district had failed to take into consideration the request by Abu-Bakr for accommodation and followed that by denying the request without indicating it would cause any undue hardship.

Through the suit, the DOJ wants the school district to implement a new policy on grooming that would prevent the discrimination against employees based upon religion. The suit is also seeking monetary damages for Mr. Abu-Bakr as well as others that faced similar situations.

Abu-Bakr filed a complaint on religious discrimination originally, with the EEOC – Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Philadelphia office of the EEOC investigated and found there was enough evidence to believe that discrimination took place and thus referred the case to the DOJ.

The local district director of the EEOC office, Spencer Lewis said changing a grooming and dress policy could allow an individual to keep working and not pose any undue hardship to their employer.

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