There have been a couple of major legal matters just reported that relate to dress, tattoos or grooming habits in the workplace and the impact of Title VII.   On May 15th we wrote a long blog about whether workplace prohibitions relating to dress, tattoos or grooming habits violate Title VII. See also our blog of 7/29/11.

Although Title VII does not per se prohibit dress or grooming rules or employer acts based upon them, nevertheless these rules may be violative of Title VII’s prohibition of employment discrimination based upon religion.  Accommodation must be made if the dress or grooming rule or policy impacts employees who are members of a protected group, such as religion, and we cited a few recent case examples.

New York — It was announced yesterday that the NYC Transit Authority has settled a lawsuit brought by the US Department of Justice on behalf of Sikhs and Muslims regarding head coverings worn by transit workers.  See report of Jessica Dye of Reuters.

California — The California Assembly overwhelmingly passed a bill – A.B. 1964 (known as the “Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2012”) which would provide that the state’s version of Title VII applies to religious clothing and hairstyles.

The New York lawsuit merits some discussion. It had long been the policy – but only enforced after 9/11 — that all head coverings (i.e., headscarves, turbans and other religious headwear) had to bear a Transit Authority logo, or else the employee would be forced to work where the public could not see them. Now, the transit employees will be permitted to wear these head coverings – but only if they are in the same blue color as their transit uniforms.   Significantly, the California bill discussed in this blog, pushed by Sikh groups, was passed to prohibit the similar practice of employers who forced employees wearing religious clothing or headwear “to the back of the store” where they could not be seen.

Chris Dolmetsch of Bloomberg, reported that the Transit Authority also agreed not to “selectively enforce uniform policies or take adverse employment actions” against such employees, and also agreed to accommodate workers who can’t comply with uniform policies and work to eliminate policies and practices that discriminate on the basis of religion, according to the court filing.  It also agreed not to retaliate against employees or prospective workers who have complained that it has engaged in such discrimination, and to require mandatory training regarding religious discrimination, according to the court document.

A Justice Department attorney stated that he was “”pleased that the NYCTA has agreed to end its discriminatory practices that for years have forced employees to choose between practicing their religion and maintaining jobs.”