Daoud Ibraheem worked for Wackenhut Services Inc. as a security officer at a federal facility. Ibraheem is a Black Muslim male. He was hired when he was 70-years old. When Wackenhut hired Ibraheem, he wore a beard for religious reasons. Wackenhut had a policy that all security personnel must be clean shaven except for sideburns and mustaches. Wackenhut made an exception for beards worn for religious purposes. Employees had to submit a written letter to Wackenhut to claim they were wearing a beard for religious reasons. Ibraheem submitted a letter which was on file in the security office. Ibraheem was later told he would have to keep a copy of the proof of religion letter on his person while at work. While working, Ibraheem was asked by several supervisors to produce his proof of religion letter.
Later, Ibraheem was suspended for allegedly sleeping on duty. He denied he was sleeping and demanded to see the videotape; however, the tape was never produced. He was later reassigned to a standing post, and was not provided a chair. Ibraheem was disciplined for failing to properly complete an assigned task and for abandoning his post before another security guard came to relieve him. Ibraheem alleged he was told the supervisor needed him immediately, and that another guard would cover his position. The position was not covered. Ibraheem was then fired.
Prior to Ibraheem’s termination, he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for employment discrimination based on religion. A right to sue letter was issued by the EEOC. Ibraheem and five other employees sued Wackenhut for discrimination based on religion, age and retaliation. Wackenhut filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing Ibraheem’s termination was not based on discrimination.
The federal district court denied Wackenhut’s motion to dismiss in part. The court held that the plaintiff had sufficient evidence to support his claims of employment discrimination, hostile work environment and retaliation based on religion. The district court found Ibraheem had raised sufficient evidence of possible discrimination resulting from Wackenhut’s repeated inquiries about the plaintiff’s proof of religion letter.
The lesson here is that employers should be careful not to abuse legitimate policies, such as a requirement that an employee provide proof of religion to receive an exception to a company dress or appearance policy.
Ibraheem v.Wackenhut Services. Inc., No. 09-0533, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, May 9, 2014.
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