Title VII prohibits employers from discrimination based on religion, among other things. The anti-religious-discrimination requirements actually require employers to go a step further. Not only must employers refrain from acting (i.e., from discriminating), but they must also take action in the form of providing an accommodation for sincerely held religious beliefs of an employee. Of course, there are limits on how far an employer must go to make such accommodations. And, like all of Title VII, the law applies not only to employees but to applicants, as well.
United Parcel Service (UPS), learned this lesson in a very undesirable way. Last week, a federal jury in New Jersey found against UPS and ordered it to pay $10,000 in damages in a religious-accommodation claim brought by the EEOC. The EEOC asserted, and the jury so found, that the plaintiff was wrongfully denied a job based on his religious beliefs. The plaintiff, Ronnis Mason, a Rastafarian, applied for a job in 2004 as a driver’s assistant but was denied the job because of his beard.
The company had a policy that prevented employees with beards from delivering packages to customers. He was, instead, offered a job as a package handler. In this position, Mason would have worked in a warehouse for a lower salary. Mason never completed the application process.
This is the second successful case of religious discrimination brought by the EEOC on behalf of a Rastafarian in recent memory. We posted last year about a quickly-settled claim involving four security guards at NYC’s Grand Central Station were disciplined when their “sloppy-looking” dreadlocks did not fit under the uniform-standard caps.