On September 9th we wrote about a new EEOC religious discrimination lawsuit which it filed in Denver against JetStream Ground Services. “The EEOC alleges that JetStream refused to hire or utilize numerous female Muslims to clean aircraft cabins, even though many had been doing this for years. The alleged reason – they requested an accommodation for their religious dress which the company refused and instead criticized.”
Well, religious discrimination cases against Muslims are still in the news. But before we get to them, there are a few other religious discrimination cases which caught our attention, involving Evangelical Christians, Seventh Day Adventists and Pentecostals. To those who accuse the EEOC of ignoring discrimination against certain religious faiths, we discuss these cases and refer to a comment made by an EEOC attorney: “Employers must respect employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs and carefully consider requests made by employees based on those beliefs. This case demonstrates the EEOC’s continued commitment to fighting religious discrimination in the workplace (emphasis added).”
First, the EEOC announced a religious discrimination suit against a Pennsylvania coal company for refusing to accommodate (and forcing to retire) an Evangelical Christian who had been an employee for 35 years and who refused to submit to a biometric hand scanner to track employee time and attendance claiming that there was a “relationship between hand-scanning technology and the Mark of the Beast and antichrist discussed in the Book of Revelation of the New Testament and requesting an exemption from the hand scanning based on his religious beliefs.”
Seventh Day Adventists
Second, a California car dealership has just settled an EEOC religious discrimination lawsuit by agreeing to pay $158,000. Apparently, a Nigerian employee who is a Seventh-day Adventist was refused the accommodation of not working from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, his Sabbath, and when he took such leave he was harassed and then fired. An EEOC attorney said that “Employers must recognize the value of diversity in their workforce, including religious diversity, and not harass or discriminate against those of different faiths or religious practices.”
And in a second car dealership case out of Illinois, the EEOC filed a hostile work environment case on behalf of the Muslim and Arab sales staff, who were subjected offensive comments such as “terrorist,” “sand n—-r,” and “Hezbollah,” and insulting references to their prayer bahavior and the Qur’an. “Comments implying that all Muslims are terrorists cannot be excused or minimized by calling it mere ‘banter’ about a minority ethnicity or religion. The EEOC stands ready to protect Muslim and Arab workers when they are subjected to such harassment,” said an attorney for the EEOC.
The EEOC also just announced that it had filed suit in North Carolina on behalf of a Pentecostal restaurant employee whose religious beliefs forbid her to wear pants – which violated the company dress code policy. She was not provided an accommodation for her religious beliefs and was, in fact, fired for wearing a skirt.
“Look Policy” And Muslim Hijabs
And lastly, we come once again to the Abercrombie & Fitch “look policy” which has been litigated (and discussed by us) before. On July 29, 2011, we wrote that an Oklahoma jury had awarded $20,000 in damages to an applicant for a job after Abercrombie & Fitch refused to hire her when she appeared for an interview wearing a headscarf, which she wore for religious reasons as a devout Muslim. Abercrombie argued that it had a strict “Look” policy in order to insure a unified ‘preppy’ brand image.”
A federal judge just ruled against Abercrombie & Fitch in a case brought by the EEOC on behalf of a Muslim stockroom employee in California who was fired for wearing a headscarf, or “hijab.” The Court dismissed the company’s defense of “undue hardship” — that “the Look Policy goes to the ‘very heart of [its] business model’ and thus any requested accommodation to deviate from the Look Policy threatens the company’s success,” finding no legitimate evidence of this. The company then settled this case (and another similar one) for $71,000.
An EEOC lawyer said that “U.S. District Courts are finding that Abercrombie cannot establish an undue hardship defense to the wearing of hijabs based on its ‘Look Policy.’ This is a clear victory for civil rights.”
In a 76-page decision, a federal court of appeals just reversed the summary judgment ruling in the Oklahoma case that preceded the jury trial, so that the jury verdict is now vacated and judgment entered in favor of Abercrombie & Fitch. The Court held, in sum, that the employee in that case never informed Abercrombie & Fitch prior to her hiring that she wore a hijab for religious reasons and required an accommodation.
The Court stated that:
“we resolve a question vigorously contested by the parties: specifically, whether, in order to establish a prima facie case under Title VII’s religion-accommodation theory, a plaintiff ordinarily must establish that he or she initially informed the employer that the plaintiff adheres to a particular practice for religious reasons and that he or she needs an accommodation for that practice, due to a conflict between the practice and the employer’s neutral work rule. We answer that question in the affirmative.”