Seattle man fired over religious beard wins court fight

SEATTLE — A Seattle-area Muslim man who said his former employer fired him because of the beard he wears for religious reason has been awarded more than $66,000, although most of that will go to attorney fees.

Abdulkadir Omar said he doesn’t care about the money.

“It’s not even about the money,” he said. “It’s about standing up for something you believe in.”

In 2011, Omar filed his federal lawsuit in Seattle against Sacramento, Calif.-based American Patriot Security, seeking back pay and unspecified damages for emotional pain and loss of enjoyment of life, among other reasons.

According to the lawsuit, Omar was hired by a local manager of the security company in May 2009 and earned $9 an hour guarding a FedEx warehouse in Kent. He said he started the same day he was hired, and was not told about the clean-shaven policy.

In November 2009, a supervisor from headquarters told him he had to shave his beard because of the policy. Omar refused, saying his beard is part of his religious beliefs. He was suspended, and fired the following spring, the lawsuit said.

An email inquiry to the security company on Wednesday was not immediately returned.

“I truly hope that my case shows millions of American Muslims when they stand up whether it’s at work or school, that they will win,” Omar said. “I stood up and I won. I want my case to serve as an example.”

Born in Yemen, Omar said he immigrated to the United States when he was 10.

“I grew up in this country, I’ve been living here all of my life. Just like everybody else, I’m an American,” he said.

The default judgment says that more than $50,000 of the $66,000 award is for attorney fees, while most of the rest goes to Omar, who said he was unemployed for nine months after being dismissed by American Patriot.

Omar sued the security firm with the help of the Washington chapter of the Council for American-Islamic Relations.

“Religious freedom is the law of the land,” said Arsalan Bukhari, executive director of the Washington state CAIR office. “I think religious freedom is what makes American unique and we have very clear laws that states employers, schools must accommodate religious observances.”

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