ACLU-NM Charges Española Hospital With Religious Discrimination Against Sikh Paramedic

Affiliate: ACLU of New Mexico
May 11, 2011 12:00 am

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ACLU of New Mexico
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ESPAÑOLA, NM – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico filed charges against Española Hospital and Presbyterian Health Services for fostering a work environment rife with religious discrimination and failing to take reasonable measures to rectify the situation. Plaintiff Sahaj Khalsa, an adherent to the Sikh religion, alleges that while employed as a paramedic at Española Hospital, coworkers and hospital administration actively discriminated against Khalsa because of his religion, making disparaging remarks, threats and, in one incident, physically assaulting him.

He further alleges that hospital human resources staff made no meaningful attempt to curtail this religiously motivated harassment.

“Religious tolerance and accommodation are core American values,” said ACLU of New Mexico Managing Attorney Laura Schauer Ives. “Discriminating against an employee because of his or her faith is not just illegal; it’s wrong. It goes against everything we stand for as Americans.”

Sahaj Khalsa is a practicing Sikh, was born into the religion, and has maintained all of the tenets of the faith since birth. One of the tenets of Sikhism is maintaining uncut beards and hair, which is tied up in a turban.

Khalsa was employed by Presbyterian Health Services (PHS) as a Paramedic and Field Operations Supervisor for nine years from 2001 to 2010. During this time, 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 Khalsa and other observant Sikh employees.

When 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 implemented a no-beards policy in retaliation for his complaints, telling Khalsa he must either shave or lose his job. 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 continued this pattern of discrimination and retaliation until 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, Khalsa was forced to resign in December 2010.

“All I wanted was do my job helping people in my community get the urgent medical care they needed,” said Khalsa. “My Sikh religion did not prevent me from performing that job, but the prejudice of my supervisors did.”

The ACLU of New Mexico is demanding that Española Hospital and Presbyterian Health Services compensate the plaintiff for lost wages and emotional stress caused by the extraordinary religious discrimination he suffered at their hands.

For a full account of the discrimination and retaliation please visit:

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