Company Fired Muslim Employee Due to Religious Head Covering, Federal Agency Charged
PHILADELPHIA – ABM Security Services, Inc., a subsidiary of ABM, one of the largest facility management service providers in the United States, violated federal law when it fired a Muslim employee for asking to wear a religious head covering on the job, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced today.
According to the EEOC’s suit, ABM hired Tahira B. El, of Philadelphia, for a security officer position at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Feb. 21, 2011. El is an observant Muslim whose religious beliefs require her to wear a khimar, an Islamic religious head scarf that covers her hair, ears and neck. According to the lawsuit, when El wore her khimar to mandatory training the next day, she was told she must remove her khimar if she wanted to work for ABM at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The EEOC charges that when El could not remove her khimar due to her religious beliefs, the company fired her instead of modifying its dress code or offering another reasonable accommodation to her 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 sincere 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 Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Civil Action No. 12-4075. The EEOC is seeking injunctive relief prohibiting discriminatory employment practices based on religion, as well as lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages, and other affirmative relief for El.
“If an employee faces a conflict between her sincere religious beliefs and work rules, then the employer must offer a reasonable accommodation, such as allowing someone to wear a religious head covering, unless it would be an undue hardship,” said District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. of the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office. “It is hard to see how accommodating Ms. El’s request to wear her religiously-required head covering would impose an undue hardship.”
EEOC Philadelphia Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, “Federal law protects the rights of people of all religious faiths in the workplace. No employee should be forced to choose between following the dictates of her religion and earning a living.”
According to its website, www.abm.com, ABM employs nearly 100,000 people and had $4.2 billion of revenue in 2011.
The Philadelphia District Office of the EEOC oversees Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.