Lawsuit brought by ACLU of Florida after sheriff’s employee retaliated against for filing an EEOC complaint over demotion and harassment stemming from seeking accommodation for observance of religious beliefs

CONTACT: ACLU of Florida Media Office,, (786) 363-2737

FT. MYERS, FL –Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida brought a federal lawsuit against the Collier County Sheriff’s Office on behalf of an employee of the sheriff’s department who was repeatedly discriminated against for observing the tenets of the Hasidic Jewish faith. A complaint filed today with the U.S. District Court in Ft. Myers, Florida states that Benjamin Newmark was retaliated against for filing complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) after he was demoted from the Sheriff’s Office’s gang division to a position as jail technician and subjected to routine harassment and discrimination by Sheriff’s Office staff because of his observation of the tenets of Judaism.

“The way Mr. Newmark was treated by the staff and leadership of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office is absolutely unacceptable,” said ACLU of Florida Legal Director Nancy Abudu. “All of us have a right to our own religious beliefs, and being able to serve the public with dignity should not be based on whether you follow one faith or another. For years, Mr. Newmark was subjected to a campaign of humiliation by the staff of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office simply because of his religious beliefs.”

In 2009, Mr. Newmark requested religious accommodations to allow him to observe the tenets of his Jewish faith, including being allowed to not shave his beard and wear a head covering, and to have a schedule that accommodated his observance of the Jewish Sabbath as well as religious holidays like Passover and Yom Kippur.

Mr. Newmark’s requests for accommodations were denied, he was demoted from his position as an officer within the department’s gang unit to a non-certified civilian position of jail technician, and a campaign of harassment began that included being referred to by Sheriff’s staff as “a hairy Jewish mother-[expletive],” and having a Nazi Iron Cross flag placed outside his cubicle.

In 2012 – by which time Mr. Newmark had become a member of the Hasidic sect, a branch of Orthodox Judaism the tenets of which require men to remain unshaven and wear a head covering – Mr. Newmark was retaliated against for filing a complaint with the EEOC and threatened that he would  be forced to shave his beard and cease wearing his yarmulke.

That same year, the Sheriff’s Office advertised a job opening for a court holding cell officer. After Newmark, who exceeded the requirements for the position, applied for the job, the Sheriff’s Office revised the job requirements to exclude him from consideration, and the position was given to an individual with considerably less experience.

In April 2014, a Letter of Determination from the EEOC found that the Sheriff’s Office discriminated against him due to his religious beliefs and retaliated against Mr. Newmark for filing a complaint of religious discrimination, which forms the basis for the lawsuit filed today.

In addition to Abudu for the ACLU, Mr. Newmark is being represented by cooperating attorneys Adria Lynn Silva and Douglas Wilson.

A copy of the complaint filed today with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, is available here:

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