University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name United States v. Board of Education for the School District of Philadelphia and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania EE-PA-0247
Docket / Court CIV. A. No. 87–2842 ( E.D. Pa. )
State/Territory Pennsylvania
Case Type(s) Equal Employment
Special Collection Civil Rights Division Archival Collection
Attorney Organization U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division
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 ... read more >
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.

Rachel Harrington - 06/02/2021


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Defendant-type
Elementary/Secondary School
Jurisdiction-wide
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
General
Disparate Impact
Disparate Treatment
Pattern or Practice
Plaintiff Type
U.S. Dept of Justice plaintiff
Causes of Action Title VII (including PDA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e
Defendant(s) Board of Education for the School District of Philadelphia
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Plaintiff Description The United States Department of Justice
Indexed Lawyer Organizations U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Filed 05/01/1987
Case Closing Year 1990
Case Ongoing No
Court Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
E.D. Pa.
05/17/1989
Memorandum of Decision (1989 WL 52506)
EE-PA-0247-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Court of Appeals
09/29/1989
Brief for the United States as Appellant
EE-PA-0247-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: Papers of Brian Landsberg
U.S. Court of Appeals
11/30/1989
Brief for the United States as Cross-Appellee and Reply Brief as Appellant
EE-PA-0247-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: Papers of Brian Landsberg
U.S. Court of Appeals
08/09/1990
Opinion [U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit] (911 F.2d 882)
EE-PA-0247-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
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Judges Kelly, James McGirr (E.D. Pa.) show/hide docs
EE-PA-0247-0004
Stapleton, Walter King (D. Del., Third Circuit) show/hide docs
EE-PA-0247-0003
Plaintiff's Lawyers Baylson, Michael M. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
EE-PA-0247-0001 | EE-PA-0247-0002
Silver, Jessica Dunsay (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
EE-PA-0247-0001 | EE-PA-0247-0002
Thome, Linda F. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
EE-PA-0247-0001 | EE-PA-0247-0002
Turner, James P. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
EE-PA-0247-0001 | EE-PA-0247-0002

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