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Why was a Florida sheriff's office hit with a discrimination suit?

One of the more unfortunate misperceptions concerning workplace discrimination is that it's largely confined to the private sector, such that this type of conduct seldom -- if ever -- occurs within the rolls of the state or federal government.

Whether this misperception comes from the idea that public sector employees have perhaps had more comprehensive training concerning what type of behavior is acceptable or that supervisors are perhaps more strict about cracking down on otherwise illegal conduct, the fact remains that workplace discrimination can and does occur within the ranks of government workers.

By way of illustration, consider a recent case in Collier County, where an officer has filed a lawsuit alleging religious discrimination.

What does the lawsuit allege?

According to the federal complaint, the officer, a practicing member of the Hasidic Jewish faith, asked his supervisors for various religious accommodations back in 2009. These accommodations included the ability to wear a beard, cover his head and observe certain religious holidays.

The complaint goes on to allege that shortly after these requests were made, he began experiencing various derogatory remarks and actions by co-workers, which went unaddressed by his superiors.

What happened next?  

The officer ultimately filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2010 and 2012, with the agency finally determining that his rights had been violated by the Collier County Sheriff's Office in April 2014.

Thereafter, settlement talks between the EEOC and the sheriff's office failed and the matter was referred to the Justice Department, which indicated that it could find no grounds for discrimination this past January.

The DOJ advised the parties that they had three months to file a lawsuit, which is exactly what the officer did this Monday.

Does the lawsuit make any other allegations?

Yes, in addition to religious discrimination, it alleges that the sheriff's office retaliated against the officer after his filing of the complaint with the EEOC. This retaliation allegedly included making him shave his beard, banning his yarmulke and a demoting him from gang unit officer to jail technician.

It will be interesting to see what transpires in this case. In the meantime, remember that workplace discrimination in any form can occur in both the private and public sectors, and that when it does, you have a multitude of viable options at your disposal.

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