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SALDEF ACLU Files Charges On Behalf Of Sikh American Paramedics


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
ACLU Files Charges on Behalf of Sikh American Paramedic

(Washington DC, 5/12/2011) – Yesterday, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico (ACLU-NM) filed charges with the New Mexico Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Española Hospital and Presbyterian Health Services (PHS) for religious discrimination against a Sikh American. The plaintiff, Sahaj Singh Khalsa, alleges that hospital administrators actively discriminated against him because of his religion, made disparaging remarks and threats, and, in one incident, physically assaulted him.

Mr. Khalsa was employed by PHS as a Paramedic and Field Operations Supervisor for nine years from 2001 to 2010. During this time, Mr. Khalsa maintained an exemplary work record and provided excellent care to people in need. However, beginning in 2008 the working environment at Española Hospital became progressively hostile to Mr. Khalsa and other Sikh American employees.

When Mr. Khalsa reported this discrimination to the hospital human resource office, they acknowledged the hostile work environment, but failed to discipline those responsible. Instead, hospital administration targeted Mr. Khalsa by suddenly implementing a no-beards policy in retaliation for his complaints, telling Mr. Khalsa he must either shave or lose his job. Mr. Khalsa suggested a reasonable compromise, offering to wear a larger respirator that would cover his facial hair while he administered aid, but this accommodation was refused without justification.

Hospital administration reportedly continued this pattern of discrimination and retaliation until Mr. Khalsa was forced to the conclusion that PHS had no intention of making reasonable accommodations for his sincerely-held religious beliefs as required by law. He also concluded that PHS had no interest in truly addressing the toxic environment of workplace discrimination. Having exhausted every reasonable option, Mr. Khalsa was forced to resign in December 2010.

Mr. Khalsa, who contacted SALDEF last year seeking assistance, said, “All I wanted was to do my job helping people in my community get the urgent medical care they needed. My Sikh religion did not prevent me from performing that job, but the prejudice of my supervisors did. I am thankful that organizations like the ACLU and SALDEF are safeguarding our basic freedoms."

“The actions of Española Hospital and Presbyterian Health Services are another example of the widespread and serious problem of workplace discrimination against practicing Sikh Americans,” said Kavneet Singh, SALDEF Managing Director. “Every day, Sikh Americans face employment discrimination, hate crimes, school bullying, and harassment due to misconceptions about the Sikh identity. We commend Sahaj Singh Khalsa for demanding his constitutionally guaranteed civil rights.”

SALDEF commends the ACLU of New Mexico for their leadership in this case. If you or someone you know has suffered workplace discrimination, please report the incident.

Source is an email press release.