EEOC Charges UPS No-Beard Policy Violates Muslim Workers’ Religious Rights

By | July 16, 2015

United Parcel Service, Inc., the nation’s largest package delivery company, violated federal law by discriminating against workers and job applicants whose religious practices conflicted with its uniform and appearance policy, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has charged in a lawsuit.

UPS prohibits male employees in customer contact or supervisory positions from wearing beards or growing their hair below collar length. According to EEOC’s complaint, UPS has failed to hire or promote individuals whose religious practices conflict with its appearance policy and has failed to provide religious accommodations to its appear¬≠ance policy at facilities throughout the U.S.

A spokeswoman for UPS told Bloomberg News that the company has a “proven record for accommodation” and “is confident in the legality of its employment practices.”

The EEOC cited an example of a Muslim who applied for a driver helper position in Rochester, N.Y. The man, who had a beard that he said was part of his religious observance, was told he had to shave to get the position. According to the complaint, he was also told, “God would understand” if he shaved his beard to get a job and that he could apply for a lower-paying job if he wanted to keep his beard.

The EEOC says Muslims and Christians at other facilities have been forced to shave their beards in violation of their religious beliefs while they waited months or years for UPS to act on their requests for religious accommodation.

According to the EEOC, a Rastafarian part-time load supervisor in Fort Lauderdale, who does not cut his hair as part of his religious beliefs, asked for an accommodation of the appearance policy but his manager told him he did not “want any employees looking like women on (his) management team.” The EEOC says Rastafarians in other parts of the country have been denied positions or waited years for their requests for accommoda¬≠tion.

In its complaint, the EEOC says UPS’s alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of their religion and requires employers to reasonably accommodate an employee’s sincerely-held religious beliefs unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York (EEOC v. United Parcel Service; Civil Action No. 1:15-cv-04141), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement.

EEOC is seeking modification of UPS’s practices, lost wages and compensatory and punitive damages.

“UPS has persistently enforced its appearance policy even when that policy conflicts with the religious beliefs of its applicants and employees,” said Robert D. Rose, the regional attorney for EEOC’s New York District Office. “No person should be forced to choose between their religion and a paycheck, and EEOC will seek to put an end to that longstanding practice at UPS.”

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