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Taco Bell Employee Told to Get a Haircut — Religious Discrimination?

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Sometimes followers of certain religions are unmistakable in terms of appearance. This may not appeal to company owners who’ve hired religious workers, but if accommodating said person(s) can be done without “undue hardship,” then the business must abide by the law.

A company that operates a chain of Taco Bell restaurants in North Carolina will be paying 27,000 dollars to resolve a charge of religious discrimination. The lawsuit was filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of an employee working at a Taco Bell in Fayetteville, NC.

The man had been employed at a restaurant owned by the corporation, Family Foods, Inc., since 2004. He is a practicing Nazirite, a religion in which followers take a vow derived from the Book of Numbers in the Hebrew Bible. The vows include abstaining from wine and strong drink, and not coming in contact with a deceased person, even if a family member. The religion also requires a person to avoid cutting his hair, an act which the employee had not done since he was 15 years of age. In April 2010, he was allegedly informed that he would have to cut his hair in compliance with the company’s grooming policy. He responding by stating that he could not do so on account of his religion and was then told that, if he did not comply, he could no longer work at the restaurant.

The company’s reputed demand would be a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, by which employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees’ religious beliefs, so long as such accommodation does not present an unwarranted adversity on the business. The EEOC filed the suit in July 2011 in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of North Carolina. The Commission’s attempt to reach a pre-litigation settlement was unsuccessful.

“No person should be forced to choose between his religion and his job when the company can provide an accommodation without suffering an undue hardship,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District. “We are pleased that, in resolving this case, Family Foods is taking action to ensure that it fulfills its obligations toward its employees under federal law.” The Charlotte District includes the Raleigh Area Office, where the initial charge of discrimination was filed.

In addition to the monetary settlement, Family Foods will be furnishing other forms of relief. A two-year consent decree requires that the company adopt a formal religious accommodation policy; conduct annual training on Title VII and the Act’s restriction of religious discrimination and retaliation in the workplace; and post a copy of its anti-discrimination policy at each of its facilities.

Tina Burnside, supervisory trial attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District, stated that “the EEOC will continue to litigate cases where employers fail to meet their obligations not to discriminate.”

Taco Bell Employee Told to Get a Haircut -- Religious Discrimination? by
Authored by: Harrison Barnes