Muslim Security Guard Files Suit Claiming He Was Fired for Wearing a Beard

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As a Muslim, Sea-Tac resident Abdulkadir Omar wears a beard for religious reasons. The security firm that hired him in the spring of 2009--a California-based outfit that broadcasts its conservative leanings with the name American Patriot Security--didn't seem to have a problem with that. But then it did, as Omar plans to tell reporters today at a press conference organized by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

According to a suit he filed last month in the U.S. District Court for Western Washington, American Patriot informed Omar after about five months of work as a security guard that his beard violated the firm's "grooming policy."

Omar, who was born in East Africa and immigrated here as a child, contacted the local office of CAIR, which wrote the company a letter explaining how his beard was an outgrowth of his religious beliefs. The letter failed to persuade American Patriot CEO Scott Jacobs, who told Omar that if he didn't shave, he wouldn't work, according to the suit. Omar refused, and that was the end of his career at American Patriot.

Perhaps Jacobs, who couldn't be reached for comment this morning, was influenced by his law-enforcement background. According to his firm's website, the American Patriot CEO spent 11 years as a deputy for the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department. Grooming policies are not uncommon in such agencies. Take the Seattle Police Department, which has an incredibly detailed list of "male hair standards" contained in its manual (see pdf). Among them:

The face will be clean shaven, except that mustaches will be permitted. If a mustache is worn, it shall be kept neatly trimmed and tidy. Mustaches may extend laterally not more than one-half inch (1/2") from the corner of the mouth, nor more than one-quarter inch (1/4") below the corner of the mouth, nor more than one-quarter inch (1/4") down over the upper lip.

There are also "female hair standards," incidentally, which mandate that women keep their hair shorter than their uniform collar.

SPD spokesperson Mark Jameison says he doesn't know whether any officer has ever challenged those policies for religious reasons. But if someone did so, he says, "I'm sure it would be considered."

In fact, employers are obligated by state and federal anti-discrimination laws to make such accommodations, according to Omar's suit. CAIR says Omar already has a ruling from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saying that he was wrongfully terminated. Now, Omar is hauling American Patriot into court for back wages he says he's due and a reform of the company's policies.

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