Suit: PGW Demoted Muslim Man Who Wouldn’t Shave His Beard

Karim Burke says his Constitutional rights have been violated.

Philadelphia Gas Works employee Karim Burke has filed a federal lawsuit against the gas company, alleging that PGW demoted him because he wouldn’t shave his beard. Burke, who describes himself as a “devout Muslim,” believes that this is a violation of his Constitutional rights.

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

When Burke was hired by PGW to work at the Port Richmond facility on East Venango Street in 2011, he had a full beard. And he says that no one told him when he was hired that he would have to shave it. But shortly after Burke started at PGW, a supervisor informed him that his beard had to go so that he could be fitted for a Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), a mask intended for emergency situations at the plant.




Burke claims in the suit that he explained that he couldn't shave for religious reasons and that PGW management gave him a pass on the beard. The subject came up again in 2012, and again, Burke says that the company agreed to let him keep the beard. But when he refused another request in October 2013, he says that PGW told him to shave it, or else.

"There was no compelling or even rational interest that would require Mr. Burke to be fitted for a SCBA," claims the suit. "His job duties require him to leave the Richmond complex in the event of an emergency and he was given no emergency training or responsibilities."

Burke says he asked PGW to provide him with a different type of SCBA — one that wouldn't require a clean-shaven face — but that the company said no. In the end, Burke says he was transferred to the position of Mechanic's Helper "at a substantial reduction in salary."

To support his claim, Burke includes in the suit a statement from his imam at West Philadelphia's AICP Mosque:

Islamic law requires that a man distinguish himself from those who are not of the Islam faith by following a number of commands concerning his personal appearance and conduct. While the practice may vary among some schools of thought within Islam, our Mosque adheres to the strong religious practice that bars shaving one's beard as a sign he is a Muslim. While a beard may be trimmed from time to time, it may not be shaved off in the manner that was required of Mr. Burke's employer... To do so would violate Mr. Burke's core religious beliefs.

Burke also obtained an expert opinion from South Jersey safety consultant Vincent Gallagher of Safety Research, Inc., who concluded that PGW's policies related to shaving and the SCBA are "illogical and unreasonable."

Burke has asked a judge to force PGW to reinstate him in his old job — with his beard, of course.

Barry O'Sullivan, a spokesman for PGW, said he could not comment on ongoing litigation.

Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • matthew brandley

    Shave it you muslim bastard and stop shoving your sharia shit down our damn throats! you and obama will not control us you piece of crap!

    • http://pislamonauseacentral.blogspot.com/ Gary Rumain

      Hear, hear!

      • http://ironburka.blogspot.com/ Mullah Lodabullah

        The fun really starts when muslim employees start acting on some of allah’s other commands concerning their conduct towards those ‘who are not of the Islam faith’. The polite euphemism is ‘workplace violence’.

        • http://pislamonauseacentral.blogspot.com/ Gary Rumain

          I know what you mean. Starts with a j and ends with a d.

          • http://ironburka.blogspot.com/ Mullah Lodabullah

            You don’t need to buy a vowel.

          • http://pislamonauseacentral.blogspot.com/ Gary Rumain

            They don’t use too many in arabpig anyway.

          • http://ironburka.blogspot.com/ Mullah Lodabullah

            True.

    • rick

      Your an ass, your have the same type of mentality as the good old white boys from the south that used to lychee african American . You are a radical and the real extremist

    • Guest

      People are entitled to freedom to practice their religious beliefs. You don’t like that? Then move to another country.

      • matthew brandley

        why dont you go fuck yourself asshole! you have no idea what these douche bags are doing to our country do you?

    • http://www.facebook.com/raheel.sadi Raheel Yousaf Sadi

      People are entitled to practice their religious beliefs freely. You don’t like that? Then move to another country.

      • matthew brandley

        you muslim bastards are trying to lush your sharia bullshit down are damn throats! fuck you and your damn sharia bullshit ! why dont you go choke on your eligion and some bacon fat you bastard! rules are made to be followed and we are sick and tired of our country WHICH WAS FOUNDED ON CHRISTIAN BELIEFE GOD AND COUNTRY NOT ALLAH AND COUNTRY!

        • http://pislamonauseacentral.blogspot.com/ Gary Rumain

          Well said!

        • Guest

          What’s that sound? Oh right, it’s the US constitution smacking you in the face. Maybe you read it sometime. Hahaha.

        • http://www.facebook.com/raheel.sadi Raheel Yousaf Sadi

          What’s that sound? Oh right, it’s the US constitution smacking you in the face. Maybe you should read it sometime. Hahahaha.

          • http://pislamonauseacentral.blogspot.com/ Gary Rumain

            Semper fidelis, mofo.

          • matthew brandley

            go kill yourself bitch! the only good muslim is one that has its head cut off or has a million bullets in it! the new egyptiain goverment has the best idea ever. a mass execution of those accused in the muslim brotherhood! death to all the muslims trying to induce sharia law in our country and who cant follow our damn laws!

          • http://www.facebook.com/raheel.sadi Raheel Yousaf Sadi

            “go kill yourself bitch!”

            Only if you say pretty please, with a cherry on top.

          • http://pislamonauseacentral.blogspot.com/ Gary Rumain

            You should work harder at emulating your false prophet Mahound. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Q3f15NXrLI

      • http://pislamonauseacentral.blogspot.com/ Gary Rumain

        Why don’t YOU move back to the turd world s#ithole you crawled out of and take your Satanic death cult with you?

        • http://www.facebook.com/raheel.sadi Raheel Yousaf Sadi

          I’m already in my country. It’s called the United States of America. Look it up sometime.

          • http://pislamonauseacentral.blogspot.com/ Gary Rumain

            Oh, it’s your country, is it? We’ll see about that. Get out of dar al-harb and go back to dar al-pislam.

          • http://www.facebook.com/raheel.sadi Raheel Yousaf Sadi

            No.

          • http://pislamonauseacentral.blogspot.com/ Gary Rumain

            Why? You got a fartwa that tells you you can stay?

          • http://www.facebook.com/raheel.sadi Raheel Yousaf Sadi

            Why? Because I am an american. And I live in the USA. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

          • http://pislamonauseacentral.blogspot.com/ Gary Rumain

            Sure you are, ummah dude.

          • http://www.facebook.com/raheel.sadi Raheel Yousaf Sadi

            Whatever you think about it is irrelevant. There’s a definition of what constitutes an “american citizen” and unfortunately for you it is completely different from what you would like it to be. Sucks to be you.

          • http://pislamonauseacentral.blogspot.com/ Gary Rumain

            Your pislam, Mahound, allah and sharia are irrelevant.

          • http://www.facebook.com/raheel.sadi Raheel Yousaf Sadi

            And yet you’ve been talking about it for the last couple of days. Apparently not.

          • http://pislamonauseacentral.blogspot.com/ Gary Rumain

            Don’t you have a sharmuta to horror kill?

          • http://www.facebook.com/raheel.sadi Raheel Yousaf Sadi

            Is my name Gary Rumain? If not then no.

          • http://pislamonauseacentral.blogspot.com/ Gary Rumain

            Then your not following your filthy koranus. Some arselifter you are.

          • http://www.facebook.com/raheel.sadi Raheel Yousaf Sadi

            You seem to be pretty good at making childish insults.

          • http://pislamonauseacentral.blogspot.com/ Gary Rumain

            And your an expert at takiya.

          • http://www.facebook.com/raheel.sadi Raheel Yousaf Sadi

            That sounds like an mexican appetizer. Hey you’re completely free to make up fairytales and believe in them too.

          • http://pislamonauseacentral.blogspot.com/ Gary Rumain

            And your kitman is crap too.

          • http://www.facebook.com/raheel.sadi Raheel Yousaf Sadi

            Refer to my previous comment.

          • http://pislamonauseacentral.blogspot.com/ Gary Rumain

            Don’t forget your tawriya and muruna, budallah.

          • http://www.facebook.com/raheel.sadi Raheel Yousaf Sadi

            Refer to my previous comment.

          • http://pislamonauseacentral.blogspot.com/ Gary Rumain

            Refer to it yourself.

          • http://www.facebook.com/raheel.sadi Raheel Yousaf Sadi

            I don’t need to. But you do.

  • http://ironburka.blogspot.com/ Mullah Lodabullah

    Those who submit to the strange god and its strange laws do so at their peril. Time for our governments to stop pandering to their ‘god’ false prophet, and the rest of their baggage, and allow employers to employ on their terms and conditions.

    • http://pislamonauseacentral.blogspot.com/ Gary Rumain

      Either that or let this fool to work without the SCBA mask.