Tribune News Service
Kolkata, November 8
A Sikh Facebook group has refused to get swept off by Kamala Harris’s election as Vice-President of USA and has reminded its followers about her questionable role in a lawsuit filed by a Sikh man challenging an official agency of California for denial of a job to him because of his beard.
According to an article circulated by citysikhs.org.uk, one of the largest International Sikh groups on Facebook, Trilochan Oberoi, a former commander in the Indian Navy, was denied job as a state corrections officer in California in USA in 2005 because he refused to shave his beard. The beard was posing problem for the mandated gas-mask fitting.
When Oberoi appealed, an arbitration board ruled in his favour and said the state agency had discriminated against him by making “no effort” to find an alternative for Jolly, like giving him a mask different from the ones in use.
Oberoi reapplied for the position and was again denied. He then sued the state.
In the court filings, Harris, who was sworn in as California’s first Indian-American attorney general only three days before, backed the Department of Correction, arguing that Oberoi couldn’t be properly fitted for a gas mask unless he shaved and that no exception to the rule had been made since the policy came into effect in 2004.
The case returned to haunt Harris when she announced her intention to run for the post of the US President. A report published in Religion News Service (RNS) on July 2, 2019, under the headline “Sikh activists ask Kamala Harris for apology over beard ban for California prison guards” quoted Oberoi as having said that trimming the beard was against his religion.
Kate Waters, spokeswoman for the Harris campaign, explained to the RNS in an email that Harris’s hands were tied. “Attorney General of California, Senator Harris was obligated to defend state clients including the Department of Corrections,” Waters said.
The RNS, an independent, non-profit and award-winning source of global news source on religion founded back in 1934, quoted Rajdeep Singh Jolly, a Washington-based Sikh lawyer, as having said that the clarification by Harris’s campaign office was “not true at all” .
“Attorneys generals have discretion. They have the power to exercise discretion about how they’re going to allocate their resources, what kinds of cases they’re going to take,” Jolly said.
The state settled the case in 2011, six years after Oberoi had originally applied for the job, paying Oberoi $295,000 in damages and giving him a manager position in the corrections department. But no change was made to the no-beard policy.
In 2012, the Governor of California signed a bill to protect workers wearing religious clothing or hairstyles.