A Muslim man from SeaTac, Wash., who claims he was fired from his job as a security guard after refusing to shave his beard, filed a federal lawsuit against his former employer.
Abdulkadir Omar, 22, began working in Kent, Wash., for California-based American Patriot Security in May 2009. He said no one told him when he was hired that he would have to shave his beard, which he keeps closely trimmed as part of his Islamic faith.
But six months later a supervisor told Omar he was required to shave, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle last month against American Patriot. The lawsuit seeks compensation for 65 hours Omar said he worked and was not paid, as well as emotional and general damages.
Omar told the supervisor he was religiously obligated to keep his beard and continued to work at the company until April 2010, when he met with a regional project manager to discuss wages he hadn't received, according to the suit.
According to the lawsuit, when she saw his beard, that manager warned Omar that to continue working there he would have to shave it and comply with company policy, and Omar repeated that he was following his religious beliefs. Omar claimed other security guards at the company had beards and continued to work.
He contacted the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national Muslim advocacy organization. The Northwest chapter of the council receives one or two calls a month from people who have a similar problem with an employer, said Jennifer Gist, a coordinator for the Seattle chapter of the council.Employers almost always change their stance after receiving a letter from the council citing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which says employers must accommodate workers' religious practice unless it causes the employer undue hardship, Gist said.
But American Patriot never responded to the letter, Gist said, and Scott Jacobs, the company's CEO, told Omar he would be kept off the work schedule until he shaved, according to the lawsuit.
"Growing up in this country where the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion, I was let down," Omar said. "What does my beard have to do with me doing my job?"
The Council on American-Islamic Relations then contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal entity that enforces workplace anti-discrimination laws. The EEOC repeatedly attempted to contact American Patriot, but the company never responded, Gist said.
The EEOC determined in May that there was reasonable cause to believe the company had violated the Civil Rights Act through "discrimination and retaliation" against Omar, according to the lawsuit.
It's very rare that the EEOC finds such a violation and even more rare when they decide to put the full force of the law behind it, said Rudy Hurtado, a program analyst at the Seattle field office of the EEOC.Hurtado couldn't speak to Omar's case specifically, but said the commission is usually able to resolve an issue outside of court by discussing it with the company and employee.
"The employer has the obligation to accommodate religious beliefs. If the employer doesn't even do that, if they say, 'Nope this is the rule and we can't change it,' then we have a problem," Hurtado said.