Case: United States v. Board of Education for the School District of Philadelphia and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

2:87-cv-02842 | U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Filed Date: May 1, 1987

Closed Date: Sept. 12, 1990

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

This suit was brought by the United States in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Board of Education for the School District of Philadelphia. Proceeding under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the United States alleged a pattern or practice of religious discrimination in employment as well as individual discrimination against an individual who had filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commissi…

This suit was brought by the United States in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Board of Education for the School District of Philadelphia. Proceeding under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the United States alleged a pattern or practice of religious discrimination in employment as well as individual discrimination against an individual who had filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint sought declaratory and injunctive relief, including backpay.

The complainant was a substitute teacher in the Philadelphia public school system beginning in 1970. In the early 1980s, pursuant to her religious beliefs as a devout Muslim, she began wearing a head scarf that covered her head, neck, and chest along with a long loose dress covering her arms to her wrists and her legs to her ankles. On three occasions in 1984, she was denied an assignment as a substitute teacher on the basis of an 1895 Pennsylvania Garb Statute that dictated that “no teacher in any public school shall wear in said school or while engaged in the performance of his duty as such teacher any dress, mark, emblem, or insignia indicating the fact that such teacher is a member or adherent of any religious order, sect or denomination.” Pa.Stat.Ann. tit. 24, § 11-1112. The statute provided for suspension or permanent disqualification for teachers as well as fines for school directors.

On November 27, 1984, the complainant filed a charge of employment discrimination pursuant to Title VII with the EEOC against the School District of Philadelphia and later amended the complaint, adding the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. After the school board and the Commonwealth declined to participate in conciliation of the charge, the Justice Department filed a complaint in district court, naming both as defendants.

A bench trial was conducted on July 18-20, 1988 before District Court Judge James McGirr Kelly. In a May 17, 1989 decision, Judge Kelly found in favor of the United States and against defendant Board of Education for the School District of Philadelphia, ordering the Board of Education to pay the individual $2,513.81 in backpay and interest and enjoining the defendant from giving further force or effect to the Garb Statute, declaring it “contrary to and in conflict with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” However, the court entered judgment in favor of defendant Commonwealth and against the United States, concluding that the Commonwealth was not the complainant's employer and the sporadic enforcement of the statute did not rise to a “pattern or practice” of discrimination. 1989 WL 52506.

The United States appealed the judgment against it and the School Board cross-appealed. The Third Circuit issued an opinion on August 9, 1990, affirming the district court’s judgment against the United States and reversing the judgment against the defendant school board. In a unanimous opinion by Judge Stapleton, the circuit court found that the Pennsylvania statute was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest, thereby passing Title VII muster. As to the Board of Education, the Third Circuit found that accommodating the individual’s desire to wear religious garb would have imposed undue hardship on the school board by requiring administrators to violate an apparently valid criminal statute, thereby exposing them to potential criminal prosecution and its consequences. 911 F. 2d 882.

The case ended with that defeat for the U.S.

Summary Authors

Rachel Harrington (6/2/2021)

People


Judge(s)

Kelly, James McGirr (Pennsylvania)

Stapleton, Walter King (Delaware)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Baylson, Michael M. (Pennsylvania)

Silver, Jessica Dunsay (District of Columbia)

Thome, Linda F. (District of Columbia)

Turner, James P. (District of Columbia)

Judge(s)

Kelly, James McGirr (Pennsylvania)

Stapleton, Walter King (Delaware)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Baylson, Michael M. (Pennsylvania)

Silver, Jessica Dunsay (District of Columbia)

Thome, Linda F. (District of Columbia)

Turner, James P. (District of Columbia)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Memorandum of Decision

United States v. Board of Education for School District of Philadelphia

1989 WL 52506

May 17, 1989 Order/Opinion

Brief for the United States as Appellant

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

Sept. 29, 1989 Pleading / Motion / Brief

Brief for the United States as Cross-Appellee and Reply Brief as Appellant

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

Nov. 30, 1989 Pleading / Motion / Brief

Opinion [U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit]

United States v. Board of Education for the School District of Philadelphia

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

911 F.2d 882

Aug. 9, 1990 Order/Opinion

Docket

Last updated May 12, 2022

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

State / Territory: Pennsylvania

Case Type(s):

Equal Employment

Special Collection(s):

Civil Rights Division Archival Collection

Key Dates

Filing Date: May 1, 1987

Closing Date: Sept. 12, 1990

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

The United States Department of Justice

Plaintiff Type(s):

U.S. Dept of Justice plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, State

Board of Education for the School District of Philadelphia (Philadelphia), City

Defendant Type(s):

Jurisdiction-wide

Elementary/Secondary School

Case Details

Causes of Action:

Title VII (including PDA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e

Availably Documents:

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Defendant

Nature of Relief:

None

Source of Relief:

None

Issues

General:

Disparate Impact

Disparate Treatment

Pattern or Practice

Discrimination-area:

Accommodation / Leave

Hiring

Other Conditions of Employment (including assignment, transfer, hours, working conditions, etc)

Discrimination-basis:

Religion discrimination

EEOC-centric:

Direct Suit on Merits