Religious discrimination at work lawsuit for "covering" up?

by on January 14, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Religious discrimination at work lawsuit settled for $150,000

What do you do about employees with tattoos or body piercings that present an undesirable image? Until recently, you could make them cover up or remove their stuff at work. As a result of a recent lawsuit, though, it may be a case of religious discrimination at work

A restaurant server in Washington state had tattooed his wrists according to what he said were the obligations of his religion – the Kemetic faith of ancient Egypt. His beliefs dictated not only that he have the tattoos, but also that he display them, he said.

The manager of the chain outlet where the server worked would have none of it and fired him. The EEOC sued for religious discrimination at work on the server’s behalf. The company explained that it had Christian values, sought a wholesome image, and didn’t want servers with the “urban kind of experience” that presumably included visible tattoos.

This explanation didn’t sit well with the court, which said the company hadn’t tried to accommodate the server’s beliefs. Faced with an unsympathetic court, the company settled the religious discrimination lawsuit for $150,000 and agreed to make policy changes.

Religious significance

Where does this leave you? You may want to revisit your accommodations for body art, especially if employees invest it with religious significance. (There’s even a Church of Body Modification.) Instead of taking a hard-and-fast line, you may want to consider each person’s appearance on a case-by-case basis or risk lawsuits for religious discrimination at work.

Note: The tattoos in the server’s case were relatively discreet, just a quarter-inch wide. The court may have taken a different view had they been bigger.

Cite: EEOC v. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, No. C04-1291, W.D. Wash.

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