While the restriction on headgear constitutes a prima facie claim for religious discrimination, dismissal of her complaint was proper because accommodation of her religious practice would impose an unreasonable hardship on her employer, the appeals court said in Tisby v. Camden County Correctional Facility. Not to mention an unreasonable hardship on her fellow officers when they have to save her ass because a prison inmate grabbed her by the headbag and was trying to strangle her to death.
Apparently, designated terrorist group CAIR’s handy dandy Guides for Correctional Institutions and Law Enforcement about accommodating Islamic sharia law in the workplace didn’t work this time.
NJ Law Journal The headbag (hijab in Arabic) worn by Linda Tisby after she became a Sunni Muslim in 2015 could be used to choke someone, or to smuggle contraband into the jail, the appeals court said. What’s more, it undermined the facility’s goal of presenting a unified, neutral and unbiased force to the public and inmates, the court said.
The appeals court noted with approval the reliance by the court below on two federal court rulings from the Third Circuit, Webb v. City of Philadelphia, barring the wearing of Muslim head coverings by a woman police officer, and EEOC v. Geo Group, finding that the right of women employees in a correctional facility to wear Muslim headgear was outweighed by safety concerns.
Tisby began working at the jail in 2002 but became a Muslim in 2015, and one day she reported to work wearing the khimar. She refused to remove it, was sent home and recommended for disciplinary charges. After continuing to report to work wearing the hijab, she was dismissed on May 11, 2015.
She filed two separate suits against Camden County and the Camden County Correctional Facility. The first, filed on June 12, 2015, sought damages under the Law Against Discrimination and alleged that the jail had permitted other women to work with head coverings, including a woman undergoing chemotherapy. A month later, she filed a second suit, seeking reinstatement and back pay and asserting violations of the LAD.
The second complaint was dismissed on Aug. 7, 2015, in a ruling finding that the jail would face an undue hardship if it accommodated Tisby’s request. The first complaint was dismissed by a different judge on Aug. 21, 2015, based on the entire-controversy doctrine.
On appeal, Judge Mary Gibbons Whipple, joined by Judges Marie Lihotz and Amy O’Connor, applied the burden-shifting methodology from the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McDonnell Douglas v. Green.
“We do not minimize the religious significance of the hijab for the women who wear them. However, the trial judge drew appropriate guidance from the logic of Geo and Webb, as well as the evidence presented, when determining an accommodation would impose a hardship on defendants,” Whipple wrote.
Howard Goldberg, the first assistant Camden County counsel, said the ruling was the first of its kind in New Jersey to address Muslim headgear in a corrections or law enforcement setting, although similar circumstances have come up before. He said the case is notable for its focus on the need for police and corrections agencies “to be able to present a face to the public that is unified.”
“The safety issue is one aspect. The other aspect that I think is pretty important is the presentation to the public of an unbiased officer,” Goldberg said.