Nursing Home Company Again Refused to Allow Sikh Employee To Wear Religious Symbol, Federal Agency Charged
SACRAMENTO – A nursing home violated federal law by refusing to allow a Sikh employee to wear a religious symbol while at work, the U.S. Equal Employment Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.
In the case filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Eastern District of California, EEOC asserts that Baljit Bhandal, a 41-year-old dietary aide, lost her job because ManorCare Health Services refused to accommodate her religious beliefs. Bhandal, a baptized Sikh and employee of ManorCare’s Citrus Heights, Calif., facility, wears a small, dull and sheathed kirpan (miniature sword) strapped and hidden underneath her clothing as a symbol of her commitment to defend truth and moral values. Although her faith requires her to wear a kirpan in order to comply with the Sikh Code of Conduct, her employer instructed Bhandal not to wear the kirpan at work because it violated the company policy against “weapons” in the workplace. According to the EEOC, ManorCare forced Bhandal to choose between her job and honoring her religious belief even after receiving literature explaining that the kirpan is a religious artifact, not a weapon.
“Sikhism is a peaceful religion,” explained Gurcharan Singh Mann, a representative of the Fremont Sikh Temple who assisted Bhandal in filing her charge with the EEOC. “The kirpan is not a weapon or a means to violence. It is a mandatory article of faith.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against people because of their religion in hiring, firing, and other terms and conditions of employment. Employers must reasonably accommodate employees' sincerely held religious beliefs or practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. The EEOC filed suit only after attempting reach a voluntary settlement. The agency seeks to recover compensation for Bhandal in the form of back pay and compensatory damages for emotional distress, punitive damages and injunctive relief to prevent a recurrence of this type of discrimination.
EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo said, “Title VII protects employees of diverse religious backgrounds. HCR Manor Care has not only lost an excellent employee whom supervisors described as a ‘joy’ to work with, but now it also faces the expense of litigation.”
EEOC San Francisco Acting District Office Director Michael Baldonado observed, “Our investigation revealed that Ms. Bhandal’s kirpan was four inches long and no sharper than the butter knives found in ManorCare’s cafeteria. Barring undue hardship, the law requires employers to make a reasonable accommodation for the sincerely held religious beliefs of employees.”
The skilled nursing facility is owned by Toledo, Ohio-based Manor Care, Inc. (NYSE: HCR), which operates 500 long-term care facilities in the United States and employs 61,000 people. This is the second lawsuit filed by the EEOC against Manor Care for failing to accommodate a Sikh employee’s religious need to wear a kirpan while at work. The EEOC’s Detroit Field Office filed the first suit against Manor Care (EEOC v. HCR Manor Care, Case No. 2:07cv1370) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in August 2007.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.
This page was last modified on March 15 2011.
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