Labor & Employment

Scissors, Boxcutters Are OK; Religious Knife Is Not, Lawsuit Says IRS Ruled

A Texas woman filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service in federal court this week, contending that the tax agency had refused to allow her to carry with her to work a small knife required by her religion.

According to her lawyer, “the IRS banned the kirpan as a so-called dangerous weapon, even though the government allows hundreds of sharp scissors, letter openers, knives and box cutters in the Mickey Leland Federal Building in downtown Houston, where [Kawaljeet Kaur] Tagore worked,” reports the Houston Chronicle.

An observant Sikh, Tagore, now 35, is required to wear the knife as an article of faith, the suit says. She was allegedly fired by the IRS in 2006 when she refused to take off the knife. Earlier, however, the IRS allowed her to work from home for nearly a year.

Tagore’s kirpan reportedly had a 3-inch blade that was not sharp, and was not intended to be used as a weapon. However, a supervisor told her a federal law bans blades of more than 2.5 inches in federal buildings.

Her lawsuit seeks back pay and benefits, reinstatement to her job and the seniority she would have had if she wasn’t fired, plus compensatory and punitive damages.

The same kirpan also was at issue in a separate incident involving Harris County sheriff’s deputies, who allegedly threatened her with a stun gun after seeing the knife on her hip and handcuffed her when the family reported a burglary at their home last year, the newspaper writes. An internal affairs investigation into that incident is ongoing.

A representative of the Sikh Coalition tells the Chronicle that kirpans are common religious items for Sikhs that must be worn at all times, and says other employers allow them.

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