A Muslim man has filed a religious discrimination suit against Maricopa County and Sheriff Joe Arpaio alleging he lost his job as a jail detention officer over a fight to wear a beard.
Sinan Fazlovic, who said he resigned from the Sheriff's Office after a prolonged battle, alleges in the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix that when he was hired the sheriff's office had no problem with his beard, which he wore in accordance with religious tenets.
It became a problem when he met personally with Arpaio while he was in the training academy in 2005.
Fazlovic's superiors made him shave the beard under orders from Arpaio and then later upheld the decision by saying he would need to be clean shaven for a self-contained breathing apparatus to fit snugly on his face, the suit alleges.
Detention officers sometimes have to wear the devices in emergency situations.
Chief of Custody Gerard Sheridan said the sheriff's office was complying with workplace health laws governing face masks authorized for use in jail emergencies.
"The sheriff's office is committed to providing a safe environment for employees and inmates," Sheridan said.
The sheriff's office then created a new policy forbidding facial hair.
Fazlovic alleges he sought a special accommodation for which he was denied and told he would need to change jobs in order to wear a beard.
He grew his beard anyway and over the next year he sought other jobs in the sheriff's office. He sought to keep the same pay as a detention officer to no avail and he filed grievances, the suit claims.