A Muslim employee with the Georgia Department of Corrections filed a discrimination complaint this week alleging she was banned from wearing a hijab at work.
Jalanda Calhoun, a 25-year-old correctional officer at Rogers State Prison in Reidsville, said she converted to Islam in January and initially wore a hijab to work with little incident beyond some “funny looks” and “inappropriate comments” from supervisors.
Within a month, though, Calhoun said she was told she could no longer wear her hijab to work.
“Both my job and my religion are very important to me,” Calhoun said at a press conference Wednesday. “I never thought I would have to choose between them.”
The Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group, filed the complaint on Calhoun’s behalf with the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity on Monday.
“Right now, American Muslim women can wear hijabs while serving as soldiers, police officers, medics, and other public service roles. Yet the State of Georgia is denying a Muslim woman her constitutional right to wear a hijab while serving the state prison system,” Edward Ahmed Mitchell, the executive director of CAIR Georgia, said in a statement.
CAIR Georgia shared February memo it says Calhoun received from prison warden Linton Deloach saying she could wear “a cap issued by the GDC, a non-GDC cap bearing the GDC’s logo or emblem, or a blue or black toboggan.”
Mitchell said Calhoun initially agreed to “compromise” by wearing a turtleneck and a cap, but requested that she be allowed to cover her hair and ears. The warden, in his memo, said “the grooming standard for female correctional officers” requires them to leave their earlobes visible.
The department “attempted to accommodate” Calhoun, said Lori Benoit, a GDC spokeswoman.
“The GDC was contacted by the CAIR regarding Officer Calhoun’s concerns, and we attempted to accommodate her to the extent possible given the high security environment in which she works. We regret that she has found those efforts unacceptable and is pursuing a legal remedy,” Benoit told HuffPost.
Asked to clarify what accommodations the GDC offered, Benoit said she was “unable to comment on the specifics of the complaint.”
She also could not clarify what the department’s policies are regarding religious garments on employees and said policy guidelines could only be viewed by filing an open records request with the GDC. HuffPost did so and did not immediately receive a response.
CAIR sent a letter to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s office earlier in the month requesting he issue an order clarifying state employees’ rights to wear “crosses, Stars of David, hijabs, yarmulkes, and other religious items that do not interfere with their duties.”
“We are still waiting for a formal response to our request,” Mitchell said.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.