Supercuts Settles EEOC Religious Discrimination and Retaliation Lawsuit via EEOC.gov

PRESS RELEASE
9-14-11

$43,500 for Hair Stylist Fired For Refusing to Work on Sabbath

OAKLAND, Calif. – Salon chain Supercuts has agreed to pay $43,500 and to implement preventive measures to settle a religious accommodation and retaliation lawsuit, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today.

According to the EEOC, Carolyn Sedar had been employed as a stylist and shift manager for Supercuts in Pleasant Hill, Calif. Since 1999, store managers accommodated her observance of her Christian Sabbath by permitting her not to work on Sundays until November 2008, when a new store manager scheduled Sedar for a Sunday shift. Despite written and oral requests to managers informing them that she could not work on her Sabbath, Supercuts refused to excuse Sedar and terminated her after she refused to work on two consecutive Sundays.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs of employees, as long as the accommodations are reasonable and do not create an undue hardship. The law also prohibits retaliation against employees. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Supercuts Corporate Stores, Inc. CV 104412 RS in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

The court-approved consent decree in this case provides, among other things, training of managers and employees about religious accommodation under Title VII, providing reports to the EEOC of all requests for religious accommodation at a number of its salons, and posting a notice at the salons addressing religious accommodation in the workplace.

San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo noted, “No one should be forced to choose between sincerely held religious beliefs and a job. This settlement allows Ms. Sedar to move on with her life, and the training provisions in the decree will hopefully prevent such problems from arising in the future.”

“When there is a conflict between religion and workplace practices, solutions can often be low or no cost, if you approach it flexibly and creatively,” said San Francisco District Office Director, Michael Baldonado. “Don’t leave your supervisors and management in doubt about how to respond to a request for accommodation. Make it clear that failing to accommodate sincerely held religious beliefs may put the company in violation of the law.”

Supercuts is owned by Regis Corporation (NYSE:RGS), which operates salons worldwide under the trade names Supercuts, Regis Salons, MasterCuts, SmartStyle, Cost Cutters and Sassoon. According to the company websites, www.regiscorp.com and www.supercuts.com, Regis owned, franchised or held ownership interest in over 12,700 locations worldwide and the Supercuts salon chain has 2,100 locations. In August 2009, the EEOC’s Memphis District Office also settled a lawsuit against Regis Corp. doing business as Smartstyle for failing to accommodate an employee who observed Sabbath on Sundays.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.

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Court Finds for EEOC in Religious Discrimination Suit Against Abercrombie & Fitch via EEOC.gov

Judge Finds Retailer Refused to Hire Teen Muslim Applicant Because of Head Scarf

TULSA, Okla. – A federal court has agreed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that national clothing retail giant Abercrombie & Fitch, doing business as Abercrombie Kids, committed religious discrimination against a 17-year-old Muslim girl, the agency announced today.  The EEOC had charged that Abercrombie Kids failed to hire Samantha Elauf for a sales position because she wore a hijab, or head scarf, in observance of her sincerely held religious beliefs.  

U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frizzell granted summary judgment to the EEOC after finding that Abercrombie and Fitch failed to produce sufficient evidence to dispute the EEOC’s claims (EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., Case No. 09-CV-602-GKF-FHM).  Damages will be determined by a jury at a later date.  

The court found that Abercrombie Kids refused to hire Elauf in June 2008 for a position at its store in Woodland Hills Mall in Tulsa, Okla., because she was wearing the hijab when she was interviewed and this violated the company’s “look policy.”  The “look policy” prohibited the wearing of any head coverings.  Abercrombie claimed that allowing Elauf to wear a hijab would cause an undue burden on the conduct of its business.  

The court, noting that Abercrombie and Fitch had allowed numerous exceptions to its “look policy,” including eight or nine head scarf exceptions, found Abercrombie had “completely failed to consider the impact, if any, of those exceptions” and that its evidence was thus too speculative.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, protects workers from discrimination based upon religion.  This includes disparate treatment, harassment and segregation of employees based on religion.  Title VII requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for the religious practices of its applicants and employees when to do so would not be an undue hardship.

“The EEOC is committed to enforcing the prohibition of all forms of religious discrimination,” said P. David Lopez, EEOC General Counsel. “In this case, the Court’s ruling makes clear an employer’s ‘corporate image’ policy does not relieve an employer of the obligation to provide a reasonable religious accommodation.”

Barbara A. Seely, regional attorney of the EEOC’s St. Louis District Office, which is responsible for the agency’s litigation in Oklahoma, said, “Samantha is a typical American teenager who has a sincere religious belief that she must wear a head scarf.  Employers need to understand their obligation to balance employees’ needs and rights to practice their religion with the conduct of their business.  Where there is a minimal impact on the business, those religious needs must be accommodated.” 

Jeff A. Lee, one of the EEOC trial attorneys representing the EEOC, said, “The court has sent a clear message to employers: that the denial of a request for a reasonable accommodation of an employee’s or applicant’s religious beliefs must be based on demonstrated facts, not guesswork or speculation.”

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.  Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at http://www.eeoc.gov.

Religious Bias or Poor Performance?

A North Carolina assistant professor wanted a full professorship, so he applied for promotion in 2004. He needed to have published a great deal of work in his field, and he submitted many scholarly articles from the mid-1990s. But in 2000 he had converted to Christianity and become very conservative. All the published work he offered after 1998 was on that topic. When he was not promoted, he sued.

via Religious Bias or Poor Performance?.

Its Not All About You! | jacksonville.com

This is a link to mmclarke’s blog out of Jacksonville, Florida who apparently has had enough of the City of Jacksonville’s religious arrogance (his view not mine.) 

I share this post because it highlights the difficult issue of religious freedom/expression in the workplace (one the trending issues for D & I professionals.)  I had a conversation with a colleague this week who was asked to apologize to a subordinate by the legal office because she reminded the employee that saying Merry Christmas in her emails may be deemed offensive to others.  The employee took exception and contacted several religious rights groups and the organization asked the manager to apologize.  (The religious rights group defended the manager’s right to provide the instruction to the employee.) The manager was a bit confused as she thought she was trying to promote an inclusive work environment that respected the religious views of the entire group. 

Organizations need to focus on this delicate issue and develop policy on how to create an environment that supports religious expression while protecting the rights of others, even those who don’ t believe in anything.

Its Not All About You! | jacksonville.com.