Woman sues US revenue over ‘discrimination’
Kawaljeet Tagore, a Sikh American, has filed a lawsuit in the Houston Federal Court in Texas claiming that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) discriminated against her by prohibiting her from wearing a kirpan, a mandatory article of faith.
Tagore was fired from her job as a revenue agent at the Micky Leland Federal Building in July 2006 because she refused to remove her kirpan, a religious item that initiated Sikhs are required to wear at all times.
The lawsuit was filed by the Sikh Coalition, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty of Washington, DC, and Houston civil rights attorney Scott Newar.
The kirpan commonly resembles a sword and is a constant reminder to its bearer of a Sikh’s solemn duty to protect the weak and promote justice for all.
“Sikhs around the world wear their kirpans while serving as government officials. Bureaucratic short-sightedness and ignorance of the Sikh religion are no reason to put a unique ban on kirpans in Houston,” said Eric Rassbach, national litigation director at The Becket Fund, a non-partisan, interfaith, civil rights law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions.
The lawsuit claims the IRS’s termination of Tagore violates both the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) and Title VII religious employment discrimination rules. It alleges that the IRS banned the kirpan as a so-called “dangerous weapon”, even though the government allows hundreds of sharp knives and box cutters in the Leland Building.
The edge of Tagore’s kirpan is three inches long and is not sharp. Government officials reportedly banned it sight unseen, failing to conduct any examination whatsoever of the item before banning it outright.
Harsimran Kaur, legal director at the Sikh Coalition, said: “Sikhs should be entitled to work for their government, just like any other American. Historically, attempts to ban wearing the kirpan have been resisted by Sikhs, just as Christians would likely resist a ban on wearing crosses.”
She added: “Kawaljeet Tagore’s kirpan is not a danger to anyone. She was forced to choose between her religion or her job. That is unacceptable.”
Private employers have accommodated Sikh kirpans across the US. The International Monetary Fund reversed its ban on wearing kirpans at its Washington, DC, headquarters in December 2007. In October 2007, AT&T Inc. in Ohio also reversed its workplace ban against kirpans.
Sikhism, which originated in the 15th century in the Punjab region of South Asia is one of the world’s largest religions, with over 25 million adherents. The current Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, is a practicing Sikh.
Devout Sikhs are mandated to keep five articles of faith at all times: unshorn hair, a wooden comb, an iron bracelet, cotton undergarments and the kirpan.
The Sikh Coalition is a national civil rights organisation that works to ensure that Sikhs may freely practise their faith.
Compensation for turban row victim
In a completed case in Texas a security company has agreed to pay $24,000 as compensation to a Sikh man discriminated against for wearing a turban.
With the help of advocacy group United Sikhs, Sukhdev Singh Brar filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which then filed an employment discrimination action against Champion National Security.
Legal action was taken when the company failed to respond to representations by United Sikhs.
Sukhdev Singh, a certified security officer with over six years’ work experience, applied for a job at the Champion National Security firm in Richardson in October 2005. During his job interview, he was told he would g be hired but would have to to shave his beard and remove his turban to fit a “quasi-military appearance”.
Mr Singh said he could not do this but the company would not change its position.
Champion acknowledged discriminatory policy and agreed to post anti-discriminatory notices on all employee bulletin boards as well paying the compensation, report United Sikhs, who will now provide the company with ongoing awareness training.
EEOC offices across the US have been receiving training from United Sikhs in regard to the Sikh religion and the importance of kesh (long hair) covered by a dastaar (turban) – and the other four kakaars (articles of faith).
Texas is one of the US States in which Know Your Rights Workshops have been organised for Sikh communities by the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) over the past three years.
The educational forums allow Sikh Americans to interact with government officials and enable government agencies to learn about Sikhism and challenges faced by Sikhs in America, including hate crimes, employment discrimination, and school bullying.
The forums have also been held in California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
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