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Vegas Cop Settles Religious Discrimination Case

Vegas Cop Settles Religious Discrimination Case

A Las Vegas Metro Police Department cruiser (Photo: Flickr/Roadside Pictures)
A Las Vegas Metro Police Department cruiser (Photo: Flickr/Roadside Pictures)

A Las Vegas police officer who sued his department for religious discrimination won a $350,000 settlement this week when his employer’s fiscal affairs committee approved the award and granted him the right to wear a beard and cover his head, in keeping with his practice of Judaism.

The action brings to a close a two-year suit brought by Detective Steve Riback, who joined the Las Vegas Metro Police Department 10 years ago and began exploring his religious heritage in earnest with a local Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi four years after that.

Over the years, Riback took on more and more Jewish practices, including observing Shabbat and keeping kosher. He also grew a bread and wore a head covering, actions not inconsistent with the police department’s dress code for undercover detectives. But when he transferred to a desk job, his superiors, citing regulations, ordered him to shave and leave his head uncovered. A request for a religious accommodation was similarly denied.

According to Riback’s lawyers – Lee Rowland, a staff attorney with the Nevada chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and general counsel Allen Lichtenstein – as part of the agreement worked out with the department, Riback will remain in his current position and will be able to wear a baseball cap and maintain a beard no longer than a quarter of an inch long. He will not be able to seek a transfer or promotion for two years.

Lictenstein said he saw the case as setting an important precedent for religious accommodations in the workplace.

“Steve should never have been denied the basic freedom of religion,” he said.

Riback echoed that point in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun, saying that he hoped his case breaks ground for people of all religions in the city.

“I would hope that people can learn a lesson from what happened,” said Riback. “So that it’s not just, ‘Steve’s allowed to do this today, but two years from now, we’re going to flip this around.’ ”

Rabbi Yehoshua Harlig, who directs Chabad of Southern Nevada, said that many people who attend his congregation have, like Riback, have committed to more Jewish practices in their lives, despite the obstacles.

“Steve is an example of the struggle that many people go through daily,” said the rabbi.

Added Riback: “People in the department are proud that I stood up for my beliefs and stuck to my identity.”

By Staff
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Anonymous Baltimore, Maryland June 17, 2011

Dividing the line, gaining respect. I am going through a struggle myself right now and I hate it. I want what I believe to be respected. I am a nurse working at a local hospital, we self schedule ( that means we select the days we want to work) and the internal agency covers any open days withing the hospital as well as opportunities (available shifts) that are available to every nurse working in the hospital. And I still get harassments from my manager and now Human Resources. Question?? Should I file an EO complaint? Reply

Yossi Groden Long Beach, CA via February 1, 2009

Re: Settlement It is a tremendous burden to have to sue a powerful entity such as the Las Vegas Police Department. Also, the lawyers need to be paid. Of course he should receive a reasonable settlement, as he has.
However, the battle isn't over. He should be allowed to wear an untrimmed beard, as Lubavitchers do. Reply

Anonymous Ocean Grove, New Jersey January 31, 2009

Punitive action, anyway? The story says Officer Riback "will not be able to seek a transfer or promotion for two years."

They took away his right to promotion or transfer for two years--because he wanted to cover his head and wear a beard? That sounds like retribution. Reply

LisaM Canada January 30, 2009

settlement I sort of understand, but I wish it could just be a case of being accepted, of being the freedom to practice our faith - but how hideously greedy and unlike a heavenly Father we look when we only will settle for such a huge sum of money along with the acceptance. In that case, we are not accepted, only grudgingly allowed to be different, and certainly not drawing anyone to want to be like us. Reply

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