Six-Figure Settlement But California Prisons Keeps No-Beards Policy
By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Friday, December 02, 2011 | 03:11 pm
Trilochan Singh sued the California prisons system for the right to work as a prison guard without having to shave off his beard. He settled for a $61,000-a-year job and $295,000 in damages.
Photo Source: Fiona Abode
THE POLICY PROBLEM
“Both parties agreed to enter the mediation process, after which he was hired by the CDCR and paid $295,000,” a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said. No other reason was given for the settlement offer.
The settlement could be the result of Attorney General Kamala Harris’s multiple failures to dismiss the case, Harmeet Kaur said.
“We attempted to talk about setting before this year,” she said. “But when (she) failed to dismiss the case, she made this decision rather than risk going to trial.”
The press also added pressure for the attorney general, she said.
“(She) was not willing to talk about it until after all media attention,” she said. Thirty-two civil rights groups, including Jewish and Muslim groups, sent letters in January to Harris and to Governor Jerry Brown asking that they provide the religious accommodations. Some also spoke at a news conference about the letters.
The corrections department has not changed its no-beards policy.
“Our policy is currently under review to make sure it comes alongside Cal OSHA,” said Dana Toyama, spokeswoman for the department, referring to the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “It has been under review, the case came along during that time… A gas mask has to fit properly. To make that determination is under review.”
“When the issue arose several years ago, they said the policy was under review since 2005,” Harmeet Kaur said. “That’s challenging to believe.”
Meanwhile, the Sikh Coalition is lobbying the federal occupational-safety administration, and members of Congress who have oversight of the administration, to change the no-beards policy on the national level. California’s policy is identical to the national policy.
“We have to get to the belly of beast, get OSHA to recognize that beards are not in the way of proper seal of gas masks,” Amardeep Singh said.
The coalition also asked U.S. Department of Justice in January to investigate the corrections department and its no-beards policy, to see if it complies with federal civil rights law.
“We complained and notified the federal justice department of the policy excluding Sikhs,” he added. “That investigation remains open.”
The justice department did not return SikhNN requests for comment.
Avneet Kaur, special to SikhNN, contributed to this report.