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Rejected Sikh seeks damages

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Tri-County Lexus of Totowa faces religious discrimination charges after it refused to hire a Sikh applicant because he refused to shave his beard.

The EEOC filed suit on behalf of Gurpreet S. Kherha. According to the complaint, Kherha did well enough in the job interview to be placed in training. The company even praised his performance during the training period.

A recruiter from TK Worldwide told Kherha he could have the job if he agreed to shave his beard. Kherha refused, stating his beard was part of his religious belief. The recruiter relayed this information to the dealership, which replied that it granted no exceptions to the grooming policy.

While the EEOC suit covers violation of federal anti-discrimination laws, a national advocacy group for Sikhs has filed suit in Superior Court in Paterson, alleging a violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. In a statement, the Sikh Coalition’s legal director, Harsimran Kaur, said many people mistake the Sikh turban and beard as “being affiliated with al-Qaida and the Taliban.”

Sikhs have suffered discrimination in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks even though they are neither Muslim nor Arabs. One Sikh was murdered in the days after the attacks, apparently in a case of retribution.

Note: Employers that refuse to grant accommodations for religious dress must show that doing so would constitute an undue burden. Generally, that requires an individualized assessment. Blanket policies often run afoul of Title VII’s religious accommodation requirements.

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