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Muslim worker says NC discriminating against him for beard

The Associated Press//June 26, 2018

Muslim worker says NC discriminating against him for beard

The Associated Press//June 26, 2018

RALEIGH (AP) A supervisor used a racial slur to describe a Muslim worker and suggested he only converted to Islam to keep his beard, according to a discrimination complaint filed by a civil rights group against a North Carolina state agency.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a news release June 25 that it filed the federal and state employment complaint on behalf of Keith Hyman, a correctional officer who works at Polk Correctional Institution in Butner. The Department of Public Safety allowed Hyman to keep his 2- to 3-inch beard for eight months after he was hired in September 2017, the complaint says.

“Polk in effect granted Mr. Hyman’s religious accommodation request through its action of approval and continued silence,” the complaint says, noting that a photo of Hyman with his beard appears on his employee badge.

A new superintendent was hired in February, and, just to be careful, Hyman submitted his religious accommodation request again in May, CAIR said. DPS rejected the request for a variance from the agency’s facial grooming policy one week later and began disciplinary proceedings against him, the complaint says.

The lieutenant in charge of investigating Hyman’s refusal to shave his beard, told Hyman on June 14 to provide a statement, the complaint says. The lieutenant told Hyman that he was a “street (racial slur) that just turned Muslim,” the complaint says. He also told Hyman that he would lose his job because he “put himself out there” by requesting a religious accommodation, it says.

When Hyman asked what would happen next, the lieutenant responded that Polk supervisors “would write (Mr. Hyman) up until they fired him for insubordination.”

“The only thing that has changed from when Mr. Hyman’s initial request was granted to when his accommodation was formally rejected is that Polk hired a new superintendent,” the complaint says.

Hyman’s beard was about 2 inches long when he interviewed and trained for the position, the complaint says. The DPS grooming policy says beards, goatees, and sideburns may be no longer than a half inch.

It generally is considered “sunnah” — a recommendation — that Muslim men wear a beard, although some consider a beard obligatory, CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said June 25. Some Muslim men believe their beard should be long enough to hold with their hands, he said.

The complaint says Hyman is being retaliated and discriminated against in violation of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and North Carolina state statutes.

CAIR attorney Ahmed Mohamed said in the news release that “NCDPS engaged in racist, bigoted action and has set up Mr. Hyman to be fired for simply requesting a religious accommodation.”

DPS spokesman Jerry Higgins said in an email that the agency has received a notice of the complaint from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and will cooperate with the EEOC.

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