In a continuation of its evident agenda to expand protections for religious discrimination, the EEOC has set its sights on the UPS. United Parcel Services (UPS) prides itself in being masters of logistics. UPS drivers are encouraged to take three right turns instead of one left turn in order to not have to idle in traffic, are taught how to buckle their seat belts while starting their trucks in order to save time, and are held accountable for almost every action they take while on the job. In its pursuit of uniformity, UPS also has a dress code and grooming policy for its employees, but according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), UPS is unlawfully stalling on accommodating some of its drivers’ sincerely held religious beliefs. Discrimination based on religion has become a developing area of workplace law.
Last June, the EEOC won a Supreme Court case against Abercrombie & Fitch, on behalf of a young Ms. Samantha Elauf, of Tulsa, OK. In Elauf’s case, she interviewed for a position while wearing a hijab (a head covering, as worn by some Muslim females), and was not hired. Abercrombie claimed that it could not accommodate the hijab without compromising their “look book” to which its employees must adhere, but the EEOC prevailed, on the theory that this practice unduly discriminated against Muslims, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The EEOC’s new Title VII claim against UPS is a class action claim, on behalf of Muslim, Rastafarian, and other employees who have been injured by UPS’s strict grooming policy. As UPS’s policy currently stands, male supervisors, as well as male truck drivers who interact face-to-face with customers, are prohibited from wearing beards and from growing their hair below collar length.
The EEOC cites anecdotes from two victims. In 2005, a UPS hiring official in Rochester, NY alleged told Bilal Abdullah, a Muslim, that “God would understand” if he shaved his beard to get a driver helper job, and could instead seek a package handler job that required no customer contact. UPS hired him for neither position. Meanwhile, in Fort Lauderdale, FL, a Rastafarian part-time load supervisor claims that his manager “didn’t want any employees looking like women,” in objection to his dreadlocks.
While UPS currently claims that it “is confident in the legality of its employment practices,” it is imperative that employers act carefully in order to avoid litigation. If you feel that your employer’s rules discriminate against your religion, or if you are the employer and want guidance in your policies, contact the Gilbert Law Group today, (631)630-0100.