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More on the Case of the IRS Dagger Carrier

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September 2, 2009

To clarify the status of the case of the former IRS agent who filed suit after she was fired for carrying a small ceremonial dagger to work, I talked to one of her legal representatives.

I described a recent ruling in the case on the blog yesterday in which a judge dismissed several of the claims, but left others standing. According to Harsimran Kaur, legal director of the Sikh Coalition, the court found that Title VII prohibits claims brought under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act from being brought against the IRS. However, the former IRS agent, Kawaljeet Kaur Tagore, can still bring federal employment discrimination claims against the IRS, and religious freedom claims against the Department of Homeland Security. Employees from DHS’s Federal Protective Service are the ones who barred the agent from bringing her “kirpan,” a short curved ceremonial knife, into the Houston building.

Kaur described the ruling as more of a procedural issue than anything else and she emphasized that the ruling had no impact on the merits of Tagore’s claims. She also argued that there were more dangerous objects in the building that the kirpan, including scissors and letter openers. Tagore had begun wearing the kirpan after converting to the Sikh faith, and the knife was relatively dull anyway. “One of her attorneys vigorously rubbed the blade against his hand and the administrative judge noted that it did not break the skin,” Kaur told me.

However, Tagore’s supervisor did not even examine the kirpan before firing her. Paradoxically, while the IRS, the Treasury Department, DHS, and the Federal Protective Service are defending themselves from Tagore’s suit, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is currently litigating two other lawsuits arguing for the right of employees to wear kirpans, she noted.

I asked if Tagore’s co-workers had expressed concerns about her bringing a knife to work, but she denied there had been any complaints. Apparently Tagore had been at the job for nine months before she even was initiated into the Sikh faith and had worked as an accountant for years before going to work for the IRS. She had passed an FBI background check, and when she did start wearing her kirpan, she kept it sheathed and hidden beneath her clothes.

A status conference on the case is scheduled for next month, and afterward there will be a discovery phase lasting about six to nine months, Kaur estimated. The two sides are expected to try to reach a settlement during that time. Tagore is asking for reinstatement, back pay, and the right to wear her kirpan to work.

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