Security Firm Fired Muslim Security Guard for Wearing Religious Head Scarf, and Threatened Other Employees With Termination for Wearing Religious Garments, Federal Agency Charges
PHILADELPHIA – A Philadelphia-area security company violated federal law when it terminated a security officer for wearing a religious head scarf and threatened to terminate other Muslim employees if they wore religious garments while on duty, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced today.
According to the EEOC’s suit against Imperial Security, Inc., Julie Holloway-Russell, who is Muslim, wore a religious head covering when the company interviewed and hired her for a part-time security officer position. Imperial Security provides security services for many area companies, including for large shows and events at the Philadelphia convention center. Imperial Security’s uniform policy requires employees to wear a white shirt, tie, black pants, a black belt, black socks, and black shoes, and specifically forbids additions to the uniform “. . . for any reason, including religion.”
When Holloway reported to her first job assignment at the Philadelphia convention center, in addition to her uniform, she wore a religious head covering, called a khimar, which covered her hair, ears, and neck, as required by her religious beliefs. The EEOC charges that at the end of the shift, the supervisor told Holloway that she was not permitted to wear her khimar while on duty. When she questioned the policy, she was told to remove the khimar. Holloway-Russell declined to remove it and left for the day.
The EEOC alleges that when Holloway-Russell called Imperial Security the next day for her work assignment and discussed her need to wear the religious head scarf, she was advised that she could wear a company-approved baseball cap, but that company policy prohibited her from wearing a khimar. Holloway-Russell was forced to decline because her religious beliefs require wearing the khimar.
The EEOC further charged that Imperial Security has forced a class of Muslim employees to compromise their religious beliefs by removing their khimars while on duty or risk termination. According to the EEOC’s suit, Muslim employees have sought modifications to the uniform policy on religious grounds, but Imperial Security refused to reasonably accommodate their religious beliefs.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on religion and requires an employer to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. The EEOC first attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement before filing suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Pennsylvania, Civil Action No. 10-04733. The EEOC is seeking back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages and injunctive relief to prevent future discrimination.
“We filed this suit to protect the rights of all employees and applicants to earn a living without being forced to violate their religious tenets,” said Regional Attorney Debra Lawrence of the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office. “ Making reasonable accommodations to employees’ religious beliefs is not just reasonable – it’s required by federal law.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.