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US Department of Justice files lawsuit against Philadelphia School District over beard length rule

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The Philadelphia School District has been sued for alleged religious discrimination over a rule that requires employees to keep their beards at a certain length.

The lawsuit, filed by the US Department of Justice, claims that the Philadelphia School District discriminated against a school police officer by instituting a policy in October of 2010 that prevented school officers from having beards longer than one-quarter inch.

Siddiq Abu-Bakr, a school police officer since 1987, told district officials that the rule conflicted with his Islamic faith, which requires him to not cut his beard.

The man says he has had an untrimmed beard longer than one-quarter inch for the 27 years he has worked with the district.

Siddiq Abu-Bakr, a school police officer since 1987, told district officials that the beard rule conflicted with his Islamic faith

Siddiq Abu-Bakr, a school police officer since 1987, told district officials that the beard rule conflicted with his Islamic faith

According to the lawsuit, Siddiq Abu-Bakr notified his supervisor that he could not comply with the new rule due to his religious beliefs. Justice Department officials say he was then issued a written reprimand for violating the policy.

The complaint accuses the district of failing to consider Siddiq Abu-Bakr’s request for “reasonable accommodation” to its grooming policy.

Officials say Siddiq Abu-Bakr filed a charge of religious discrimination with the Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC’s Philadelphia district office investigated the case and determined that there was reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred. They then notified the Department of Justice.

The lawsuit requires the district to “develop and implement new grooming policies that would prevent its employees from being discriminated against based upon religion”.