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Ex-Kane jail guard sues sheriff's office

Chicago Tribune
July 16, 2008

  • Sun Times: Religion is a valid reason for a beard
  • Daily Herald: Muslim corrections officer forced out over beard, suit claims

  • By Clifford Ward

    A former Kane County Jail guard who alleges he was forced to choose between his job and his beard has filed a federal lawsuit against the Sheriff's Department.

    In the federal suit filed this week in Chicago, Abal Zaidi of Streamwood said he was forced out of his job in December 2006 after Sheriff Pat Perez reinstituted a policy mandating that correctional officers be clean-shaven. Zaidi, a Muslim, said his beard was an expression of his religious faith.

    Zaidi questioned the rule, according to the suit, and was told by superiors to produce documentation supporting his position. However, Zaidi alleged that three days later, he was called into another meeting with his supervisors and was told to resign or be fired.

    Zaidi's supervisors allegedly said his departure was performance-related, but the Chicago branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations contends the jailer was fired for religious reasons. The council filed the suit on Zaidi's behalf, saying the sheriff's actions violated his civil rights.

    "We believe reasonable religious accommodation is a constitutionally mandated right," council Executive Director Ahmed Rehab said Wednesday.

    Many Muslims, and some Jewish sects, believe men must grow their beards, Rehab said.

    The suit said Zaidi, hired as a jailer in July 2006, had gotten satisfactory performance evaluations. After his resignation, he filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A spokesman said Wednesday that EEOC is not allowed to discuss individual cases.

    Zaidi did not return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment. Perez declined to comment directly on the suit, but said the beard ban also prohibited long sideburns and mustaches that extend below the corner of the mouth.

    That facial hair policy lapsed under a previous administration, and Perez said he consulted other officers and members of the public on whether beards on police officers looked professional. "They were pretty unanimous that it didn't."

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