Justice Department Settles Religious Discrimination Lawsuit in Illinois
Washington, DC: The Department of Justice announced October 13 that it has entered into a consent decree with the Board of Education of Berkeley School District 87 in Berkeley, Ill. that, if approved by the court, will resolve a religious accommodations lawsuit filed in December 2010. In its lawsuit, the United States alleged that the school district violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of Safoorah Khan, a Muslim teacher at McArthur Middle School.
“Employees should not have to choose between practicing their religion and their jobs,” said Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The facts of this case show the consequences of an employer refusing to engage in any interactive process to understand and work with an employee to find an accommodation of the employee’s religious beliefs that will not cause undue hardship to the employer. We are pleased that Berkeley School District has agreed to implement a training program that puts into place an interactive process to ensure that each request for a religious accommodation will be considered on a case-by-case basis and granted if it poses no undue hardship on the school district.”
The government’s complaint, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago, alleged that Ms. Khan requested an unpaid leave of absence in December 2008 to perform Hajj, a pilgrimage required by her religion, Islam. According to the complaint, Berkeley School District denied Ms. Khan a reasonable accommodation of her religious practice, compelling Ms. Khan to choose between her job and her religious beliefs, thus forcing her discharge. The United States also alleged that the school district maintains a policy under which it refuses to grant leave to non-tenured teachers as an accommodation for their religious practices if the leave requested is not already provided for in the school district’s leave policy.
The lawsuit was based on a charge of discrimination filed by Ms. Khan with the Chicago District Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). After investigating Ms. Khan’s charge, finding reasonable cause to believe that Berkeley School District had discriminated against Ms. Khan, and unsuccessfully attempting to conciliate the matter, the EEOC referred the charge to the Department of Justice.
Under the terms of the consent decree, Berkeley School District will pay $75,000 to Ms. Khan for lost back pay, compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees. Berkeley School District also is required to develop and distribute a religious accommodation policy consistent with Title VII’s requirement to reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs, practices and/or observances of all employees and prospective employees. In addition, Berkeley School District is required to provide mandatory training on religious accommodation to all board of education members, supervisors, managers, administrators and human resources officials who participate in decisions on religious accommodation requests made by its employees and prospective employees.
This is the first lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice as a result of a pilot project designed to ensure vigorous enforcement of Title VII against state and local governmental employers by enhancing cooperation between the EEOC and the Civil Rights Division.
“As the favorable resolution of this case demonstrates, closer collaboration between the EEOC and the Department of Justice will strengthen the enforcement of this nation’s civil rights laws,” said Jacqueline A. Berrien, Chair of the EEOC. “Our partnership is critical to ensuring that workplaces are free of bias.”