At the recent AAJ convention, I had a chance to meet Surjit Singh Saund, who is a client of Public Justice. Public Justice and two co-counsel law firms recently filed a civil rights suit on behalf of Mr. Saund after he was deniend employment by North Carolina-based M.M. Fowler, Inc. Fowler owns and operates the Famile Fare Convenience Store chain. Mr. Saund was denied employment because he wears a turban and beard as required by the Sikh religion.
Mr. Saund is a U.S. citizen who has worked at other convenience stores for nearly eight years. He applied to Fowler for a store operator position in early 2008. although he was qualified for the position, the company refused to hire him because of its alleged "grooming" policy – even after Saund explained that his beard and turban were required by his Sikh religion. The response was that he would be hired if he removed his turban, cut his hair, and shaved his beard. In essence, Fowler asked this man to choose between his job and his religion.
Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world. It is a monotheistic religion with origins in South Asia that teaches honesty, compassion, humility, universal equality, and respect for all religions. Sikhs maintain uncut hair throughout their lives, and the turban as a head covering is a mandated article of their religious faith. Approximately 500,000 Sikhs live in the United States. About 1,000 Sikhs live in North Carolina.
“Nothing about Mr. Saund’s turban and beard would interfere with his ability to run the cash register and manage a convenience store,” said Victoria Ni of Oakland, CA, a Public Justice Senior Attorney representing Saund. “M. M. Fowler had a duty to try to accommodate Mr. Saund’s religious beliefs. It didn’t even try.”
Public Justice’s lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, alleges that Fowler violated civil rights laws when it refused to hire Saund and make accommodations to its alleged grooming policy to allow Saund to work for the company with a turban and beard.
For more information about Public Justice and the types of cases we handle, go to www.publicjustice.net .