The Problem

The Sikh Coalition represents Dr. Jaswinder Pal Singh, an observant Sikh who maintains unshorn hair, including a beard, and wears a turban. Dr. Singh filed suit alleging that in 2014 he applied for and was denied a position as a neurologist at a Tennessee-based medical group after the employer and recruiter inquired into his religious appearance.

The suit alleges that as part of the hiring process, the Tennessee-based medical group and its recruiter expressed concern about Dr. Singh’s appearance. Although in initial interviews the recruiter extolled Dr. Singh’s credentials, Dr. Singh was ultimately denied the position after he submitted photographs of himself, along with information on Sikhs and Sikhism.

The practice of requesting photographs in the hiring process is widely disapproved of by employment law experts and human resources professionals alike, as it opens the door to discrimination based on protected traits like race, color, national origin and religion.

The Sikh Coalition represented Dr. Singh in filing a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2015. After the EEOC issued a right to sue notice, we partnered with Tennessee-based employment lawyer Douglas B. Janney III, to file an anti-discrimination lawsuit against the medical group employer and its recruiter on behalf of Dr. Singh.

Impact

Dr. Singh filed a lawsuit against the employer and recruiter in federal court on December 27, 2016 and the case was resolved in October 2017. As part of the agreement, the employer agreed to strengthen its equal employment opportunity (EEO) policies and retain an EEO consultant to provide anti-discrimination training for staff responsible for recruiting, interviewing and hiring employees.

Our aim in fighting these cases is to achieve legal precedent underscoring that employers and recruiters may not discriminate on the basis of religious, ethnic or racial appearance in hiring, may not ask about an applicant’s appearance during the hiring process, and may not solicit or accept photos during the hiring process.

Why It Matters

Although federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of protected traits in the hiring process, employers and recruiters may attempt to skirt the law by requesting or accepting photographs from applicants. Such practices adversely impact Sikhs, as well as other religious, ethnic and racial minorities. Our aim is to set positive precedent that employers and recruiters cannot engage in this form of hiring discrimination against Sikhs and other minorities.

"No Sikh in any job or profession should ever be denied employment because of their religion. By speaking out and taking action, I know that we will continue to hold employers directly accountable."

Dr. Jaswinder Pal Singh