March 26, 2024 (Sacramento, California) – Yesterday, The Justice Department (DOJ) challenged the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) on its denial of religious accommodations for correctional officers of various faiths, including Sikhs and Muslims, who wear facial hair as an expression of their faith. This announcement builds on the Sikh Coalition’s own campaign against CDCR’s workplace discrimination since 2023, and is the result of close collaboration between the Sikh Coalition, our legal partners, and the DOJ.

“We are pleased to see the Justice Department recognize this flagrant discrimination from CDCR,” said Sikh Coalition Staff Attorney Amreen Partap Singh Bhasin. “The Sikh Coalition is committed to fight against these violations both in court and through legislation. We continue to believe that employees of all communities have the right to maintain both their faith and health while working in any career field.”

The DOJ’s action was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, where they are seeking a preliminary injunction in order to stop CDCR’s discriminatory behavior and eliminate the conflict between individuals’ religious beliefs and their job duties. While we will remain in collaboration with the DOJ on their efforts, the Sikh Coalition and our partners will also continue to pursue legal work on behalf of our seven retained CDCR clients: The CDCR’s discriminatory policy must change, but those individuals who have suffered for more than a year under that policy also deserve justice.

The DOJ’s engagement comes the week after bill AB 2321 passed unanimously through its first committee. As a reminder, AB 2321 was developed by California Assemblymember Liz Ortega and the Sikh Coalition to require CDCR to adhere to its obligation to provide employees with reasonable and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) based on the employee’s individual needs.

In the weeks and months ahead, we look forward to continuing our engagement with the DOJ and our legal partners, as well as working with the California sangat to move AB 2321 forward through the California Assembly and Senate; stay tuned for further updates. We firmly believe that ending this kind of discrimination—against Sikhs and others—by the state’s largest public employer will have positive effects for Sikhs across all professions in the Golden State. To learn more about the CDCR’s discriminatory policy and all of our work on this case, click here.

As always, the Sikh Coalition urges you to practice your faith fearlessly.