Observance of some religious tenants are more visible than others, but none are legally allowed to be used as a basis upon which to deny employment or career advancement. But that’s exactly what is alleged to have happened to a Sikh doctor who alleges a medical organization denied him employment due to his religious appearance.
Plaintiff is a licensed and board-certified physician practicing neurology in Kentucky. He is an observant Sikh who keeps the religiously-mandated beard and turban. He says the hiring process was initiated in 2014. A recruiter praised the doctor’s credentials and experience in a series of telephone interviews. However, after the doctor submitted photographs of himself, along with information about Sikhism, all future interviews were abruptly canceled. The job then was left vacant for an extended time.
In a federal religious discrimination lawsuit filed on his behalf by The Sikh Coalition, plaintiff asserts it was very clear to him he was denied a job at defendant medical group because of both his ethnic background and religious appearance.
The lawsuit alleges that both the recruiter and a representative of the medical group verbally expressed reservations about plaintiff’s fitness for the job. He was specifically asked for information on his appearance and “what you look like.” In submitting a photograph, plaintiff also gave information about his religion and the practice of not cutting the hair – including the beard – and wearing a turban. It’s a practice called Kesh. The recruiter then allegedly responded that he “did not know who Sikhs were.”
He was subsequently denied any further opportunity for a job.
Now, he alleges this failure/ refusal to hire him was based on his race, color, religion and/ or national origin. He is asking the court to require both the recruiter and the medical organization to develop and put into place anti-discrimination policies, practices and training. He is also asking for compensatory damages.
This is not the first time those in the Sikh religion have fought for tolerance and equal employment opportunity. Last year, a group of truckers won a religious discrimination lawsuit after their employers reportedly refused to allow them an alternative to offering clippings of their hair to be submitted for drug testing. The drivers noted they offered to submit to other forms of testing, so long as they did not have to violate the Kesh requirements. Their employer refused and fired them. They won a $260,000 victory.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars companies from employment discrimination against people because of their religion. That includes prejudice in hiring, firing or any other term of employment. It extends to job segregation on the basis of religion, which would includes assigning a worker to a non-customer role because of either actual or feared preference by customers. The act also requires reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs and practices, unless to do so would result in more than a minimal burden on business operations. A reasonable accommodation could mean anything from exceptions to dress or grooming rules to flexible scheduling and lateral transfers.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
Sikh doctor in US files religious discrimination lawsuit, Dec. 28, 2016, The Times of India
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Sikh Truckers Settle Anti-Discrimination Lawsuit, Nov. 25, 2016, L.A. Religious Discrimination Lawyer Blog