The New York Department of Corrections discriminates against Muslim prison guards by refusing to accommodate religious practices or beliefs into its uniform requirements, according to a lawsuit filed on Thursday by the US Justice Department.
The suit, filed in Manhattan federal court, cited the case of Abdus Samad Haqq, a Muslim corrections officer, who was refused the right to wear a kufi, or skullcap, on the job in 2005.
Haqq had worn it without incident during his many years with the department before he was told he could not wear it, according to the suit.
"Americans are not required to abandon their religion when they report to work," said Wan J Kim, the Assistant Attorney General for the US Department of Justice's Civil Rights division, which filed the case jointly with the US Attorney's Office.
The Department of Corrections does not make exceptions to its uniform and grooming requirements for uniformed security personnel, according to its own policy.
But federal law dictates that Americans are entitled to equal protection in the workplace, so long as accommodating them does not cause undue hardship for the employer, the suit said.
Haqq's private lawsuit against New York state, which asks that it be ordered to permit him to wear a kufi, is pending.
The Justice Department's lawsuit seeks a broader order for a new policy that accommodates the religious observances, practices and beliefs of uniformed personnel.