Muslim CO alleges discrimination in lawsuit against NC

The officer is suing the state of North Carolina, alleging that he was discriminated against due to his race and religion after being told he must shave his beard

By CorrectionsOne Staff

RALEIGH, N.C. — A Muslim correctional officer has filed a lawsuit against North Carolina, alleging he was discriminated against due to his race and religion after being told he must shave his beard.

In a lawsuit filed on Monday, Keith Hyman, a CO for the Polk Correctional Institution, said he’s being targeted for retribution over his race, religion and gender, The News & Observer reported. Hyman, who’s African American, also alleged that a supervisor called him a racial slur.

An attorney representing Hyman said the NC Department of Safety “engaged in racist, bigoted action and has set up Mr. Hyman to be fired for simply requesting a religious accommodation.”

The NC prison system allows its employees to grow short beards of half an inch or less. Hyman said he was initially granted an exception to grow his beard to about 2 or 3 inches.

The officer also requested a religious accommodation to keep his beard a few days before Sept. 11, 2017, the date he started working for the prison. The prison didn’t respond to his request, so Hyman said he took the silence as approval of his request and that he encountered no problems for eight months.

In February, after the state hired a new superintendent, Hyman said he filed the request again, which was denied without any explanation, according to the complaint.

The officer said he was told he would face disciplinary action if he came to work with a beard. Hyman said he took a day off, but when he returned with his beard, he said his new boss had a prison lieutenant start to investigate him.

Hyman alleged that he was specifically told that his request was denied because of his religious faith. According to the complaint, Hyman was told "that if he had not asked for the religious accommodation that he could have simply kept his beard without any issues" and that he’d be written up "until they fired him for insubordination."

The complaint went on to say that a co-worker at the prison has a beard and has not been told to shave it.

"Polk is selectively enforcing its Facial Hair Grooming Policy to target Mr. Hyman because of his faith," the complaint says. "Specifically, Mr. Hyman is aware of at least another Polk employee with a beard at least if not longer than his. The other Polk employee is not being forced to shave."

A spokesperson for the state DPS said the department was aware of the lawsuit but couldn’t comment further, adding that the agency “will cooperate fully” with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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