Feds accuse Texas prison agency of discriminating against employee for wearing a headscarf

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit Friday accusing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice of discriminating against one of its former workers primarily based on her spiritual beliefs.

The federal lawsuit, filed within the Southern District of Texas, alleges that the state agency denied Franches Spears spiritual lodging by refusing to permit the non-uniformed employee to put on a head masking, based on court docket paperwork.

“Employers cannot require employees to forfeit their religious beliefs or improperly question the sincerity of those beliefs,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, mentioned in a assertion saying the lawsuit. “This lawsuit is a reminder to all employers of their clear legal obligation to offer reasonable religious accommodations. In our country, employers cannot force an employee to choose between their faith and their job.”

The lawsuit alleges the Texas prison agency’s refusal to accommodate Spears’ spiritual apply violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“TDCJ does not comment on pending litigation, but the agency respects the religious rights of all employees and inmates,” Hannah Haney, the agency’s deputy director of communications, informed The Texas Tribune in a assertion.

In July 2019, Spears was employed to work as a clerk on the Pam Lychner State Jail, a TDCJ facility in Humble, northeast of Houston.

In line along with her Ifa beliefs, Spears started wearing a headscarf to work in September 2019. Ifa, a West African faith, dictates that some of its practitioners cowl their “head with a head dressing during periods of religious ceremony, mourning, or to protect her spiritual power,” the complaint read.

Shortly after Spears started wearing the masking, she met with Human Resources Specialist Elizabeth Fisk to elucidate the spiritual significance behind the top dressing. According to the criticism, Fisk responded to Spears’ by saying, “Basically you just pray to a rock.”

Fisk informed Spears that she may both take away her headscarf and proceed working or go house till the agency selected her spiritual lodging request. TDCJ positioned Spears on unpaid go away, based on court docket filings.

“TDCJ further questioned the sincerity of Spears’s faith when Bailey mailed a letter demanding documentation or a statement from a religious institution pointing to the specific Ifa belief or doctrine that supported the necessity of Spears’s head covering,” the criticism learn, referring to testimony from TDCJ’s Religious Accommodation Coordinator Terry Bailey.

While TDCJ was contemplating Spears’ request for spiritual lodging she acquired a “salary warrant letter” from the agency in November 2019. She understood the letter as a termination discover demanding the return of TDCJ property, like identification playing cards and keys, so as to obtain her last paycheck.

In February 2020, Spears filed a criticism against TDCJ with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The federal agency discovered affordable trigger that TDCJ discriminated against Spears and tried to resolve the problem by means of mediation. When that failed, the EEOC referred the case to the DOJ.

The criticism asks TDCJ to compensate Spears for misplaced wages and different damages associated to the incident. Additionally, the Justice Department needs the Texas agency to institute spiritual lodging insurance policies.

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