SEATTLE (AP) — A Seattle-area Muslim man is suing his former employer, claiming he was fired as a security guard for refusing to shave the beard he wears for religious reasons.
Abdulkadir Omar, 22, filed his federal lawsuit July 15 in Seattle against Sacramento-based American Patriot Security, seeking back pay and unspecified damages for emotional pain and loss of enjoyment of life, among other reasons.
"Growing up in this country, where the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion, I was let down," Omar said Thursday at a press conference.
According to the lawsuit, Omar was hired by a local manager of the security company in May 2009 and earned $9 an hour guarding a FedEx warehouse in Kent, Wash. He said he started the same day he was hired, and was not told about the clean-shaven policy.
In November 2009, a supervisor from headquarters told him he had to shave his beard because of company policy. Omar responded that his beard is part of his religious beliefs and refused. He was suspended, and then fired the following spring, the lawsuit said.
A representative from American Patriot Security declined to answer questions.
"Everyone in the company is clean shaven," Omar said. "And I chose not."
Omar filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which found that he was wrongfully terminated and had the right to sue, according to a press release by the Council for American-Islamic Relations.
"There's no policy that can go against the law of the land," said Arsalan Bukhari, executive director of the Washington state chapter of CAIR. "Civil Rights Act trumps any (company) policy."
Bukhari said companies need to accommodate someone's religious beliefs unless it's an "undue burden."
Mary Fan, a law professor at the University of Washington, said that there are very limited exceptions to the protections provided by the Civil Rights Act against employers impinging on a person's religious grooming.
"If the company is worried about customers who don't like people who have beards and look Muslim — that's exactly what the law is set to protect against," she said.
Omar, originally from Yemen, immigrated to the U.S. when he was 10 years old. He said he's a naturalized citizen. His beard covers his face and doesn't extend past his chin.
Omar said he learned about the security guard job through his brother, who worked for the company as well. Asked if his brother experienced similar difficulties or if he still worked for the company, Omar declined to answer.
He did say that he doesn't want his job back because found a better job.
Asked if he's ready for the attention the lawsuit will bring, Omar said he was ready, but didn't allow photographers to take pictures of his face.