Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Understanding Islamic Discrimination: Wearing the Hijab or Islamic Headscarf Is Not Grounds For Firing Someone (or arresting them either)

ABA Headline : Jailed for Wearing Headscarf to Court caught my attention for a few reasons: 1. It offends me that someone could be arrested for wearing religious gear to court; 2. I am interested in seeing how next month's House Of Representative hearings on the growth of Islamic Fundamentalism in America go (as in will we learn something about the reasons approximately fifteen percent of American Muslims between 18-30 believe suicide bombing can be justified.) or is it going to be the witch hunt some groups claim it will be?: and 3. Because I am seeing more and more valid complaints of discrimination coming into our NY and Long Island offices from members of the Islamic community as well as from Sheiks who are often confused for Muslims due to their headdress.

In the Georgia case cited by the ABA Journal it seems a woman who went to court to support a family member wore a Hijab to court. She was told to remove it. This is in my mind akin to asking a Jewish person to remove a Yarmulke. I am sure that the court staff will suggest that there were security reasons for their demand and when it wasn't followed they arrested. What I find curious is that it seems to be agreed that after the woman said she would leave they arrested her anyway. I thought the idea was to NOT have her in the courthouse. Either way, I think they will be hard pressed to show that they could not have found a way to allow her to attend the court date without removing the headdress. (For instance they could have asked her to walk through a scanning device or have "wanded" her to see if she were carrying a weapon. I understand that such a process would not negate her from carrying the parts of a bomb or other items of a deadly nature on her person but I don't see how the headdress alone rises to that issue. Further if she were wearing a full Burkha I doubt that she would be required to remove it any more than a Catholic Nun would be asked to remove her Holy Habit (the tunic part which is part of the uniform if you will). You cannot arrest this person solely because she dresses in a religious.

On the Issue of the proposed hearings, Peter King is the incoming chair or the US House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security. Congressman King has announced his plan to hold hearings into why American grown Muslims are becoming more "Radicalized." The issue is, will Congressman King use the meeting to call members of the Clergy before Congress to name names of those in their congregation who are Radicals? That seems somewhat McCartyesqe. I hope Congressman King (who was a pretty fair lawyer prior to entering politics) focuses on why there seems to be an affinity for Radical faction of Islam among our younger members (those polled tween 18-30 years old.) I think you can start looking at the reason being that young Muslims are being discriminated against in larger and larger numbers. The Pew poll sited above notes that and I can say that I see it in our practice in both Nassau Suffolk as well as in NYC and it's outer boroughs.

Here is a quick primer on religious discrimination in employment/labor situations.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act codified under 42 USC 2000 e-2(a)states that (1). "Religion" is defined to include "all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief, unless an employer demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably accommodate to an employee's . . . religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j).

At first blush it is up to the person who claims to be discriminated against to prove that (1) she had a bona fide religious belief, the practice of which conflicted with an employment duty; (2) she informed her employer of the belief and conflict; and (3) the employer threatened her or subjected her to discriminatory treatment, including discharge, because of her inability to fulfill the job requirements." I suggest that if one is called in about one of these issues, that she take a small digital recorder with her and (at least in NYS) record the conversation. In New York only one party to a conversation need know it is being recorded (check your state rules here.) That should make the whole thing a lot easier to prove.

Thereafter, assuming the plaintiff (or victim of religious discrimination) has made her case the employer must then show
(1) "that it initiated good faith efforts to accommodate reasonably the employee's religious practices"; or (2) "that it could not reasonably accommodate the employee without undue hardship." Id. If negotiations between employee and employer "do not produce a proposal by the employer that would eliminate the religious conflict, the employer must either accept the employee's proposal or demonstrate that it would cause undue hardship were it to do so."

Now public employees in security positions have less rights to dress outside of the uniform than do other sectors of Public or private Sector employees. Nevertheless, short of showing that there was an economic loss or the potential for a morale disaster, the undue hardship will be hard for the private sector employer to prove. As for the first part again you can see how it is in your favor to record the conversation or negotiation. Rarely do I hear an employee say that they were listened to or negotiated with.

In our case, our client wore her hijab to work. She was ordered to give it up or go home. She worked that day without it over her objection. The next week when she went back to work, the same manager had the same complaint and further he basically told her to quit or be fired. She did leave but she was de Facto fired which saved her for unemployment benefits. We have just received a right to sue letter from the EEOC so you will be hearing more about this as the next year progresses.

If you should be incurring problems with employment religious racial or sexual discrimination or retaliation, why not give me a call to discuss it? You can still reach me through 516-741-3400.
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