Phila. security firm agrees to settlement in case of Muslim woman's firing

By Jon Campisi | Dec 7, 2011

A security firm based in Northwest Philadelphia has agreed to shuck out $50,000, plus other equitable relief, in a case in which a former employee alleged she was terminated for wearing a religious head covering on the job.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently announced that it had reached an agreement with Imperial Security Inc. over a lawsuit the EEOC had filed against the agency in the fall of 2010 over Julie Holloway-Russell’s firing.

The Muslim woman had claimed that Imperial terminated her employment after she refused to remove a religious head covering.

Holloway-Russell had worn the khimar, a piece of Islamic garb that covers the hair, ears and neck, as part of her religious beliefs, according to the EEOC.

She had worn the khimar when the company had interviewed her for a part-time security officer position, the EEOC stated.

The company, which provides security for events at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, has a policy that forbids the wearing of any item not included in the company’s uniform policy, which includes religious garb, the EEOC had alleged.

In her complaint against the security firm, Holloway-Russell had claimed that she wore the khimar when she reported to her first security job at the convention center, and at the end of her shift she was told to never again wear the head covering while on duty, according to the EEOC.

“When she questioned the policy, she was told to remove the khimar,” the EEOC stated in a September 2010 press release announcing the suit. “Holloway-Russell declined to remove it and left for the day.”

When she had called the security firm the following day to find out about her second work assignment, she was again told she couldn’t wear the khimar while on duty.

The EEOC complaint charged that Imperial Security had forced Muslims to compromise their religious beliefs by being forced to remove their khimars while on duty or risk termination.

The EEOC alleged that Imperial’s actions violated the civil rights of Muslim employees.

“We filed this suit to protect the rights of all employees and applicants to earn a living without being forced to violate their religious tenets,” Debra Lawrence, a regional attorney with the EEOC’s Philadelphia district, said in a statement last fall. “Making reasonable accommodations to employees’ religious beliefs is not just reasonable – it’s required by federal law.”

In a statement announcing the settlement, the EEOC said that in addition to the monetary compensation, Imperial agreed to remedial relief, such as a prohibition on further discriminating based on religious beliefs by its employees or engaging in unlawful termination.

Imperial will also designate an EEOC officer who will receive complaints of discrimination or retaliation and the company will revise its employee handbook to permit accommodation of religious beliefs, according to the EEOC.

The company will also provide training on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and it will establish a procedure for handling discrimination complaints.

“The 21st century workplace is increasingly diverse,” EEOC District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. said in a statement. “The resolution of this lawsuit should remind all companies of their legal obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation of an employee’s religious beliefs.”

Lawrence, the Philadelphia district’s regional attorney, continued: “We are pleased with this settlement. In addition to the monetary relief, the settlement provides significant measures, including the naming of an EEOC officer and the adoption of policies and procedures to address discrimination complaints. These injunctive measures should benefit all employees.”

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