U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Garner Restaurant Denied Muslim Employee Right to Wear Religious Head Covering, Federal Agency Charged
RALEIGH , N.C. – Kaze USA, Inc., doing business as Kaze Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar in Garner, N.C., discriminated against a Muslim employee by failing to accommodate her religious beliefs and firing her because of her religion, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today. Kaze is a traditional Japanese-style teppanyaki steakhouse where food is prepared at the customer's table.
The EEOC’s complaint alleges that on or about November 7, 2008, Jordan Hewitt, who worked as a server at Kaze, was discharged when she informed Kaze’s owner that she had converted to Islam and needed to wear a hijab in observance of her religious beliefs. A hijab is a head covering traditionally worn by Muslim women as a show of modesty. According to the complaint, Kaze's owner informed Hewitt that she could not wear a hijab and work for Kaze.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires employers to attempt to make reasonable accommodations to sincerely held religious beliefs of employees as long as this poses no undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Raleigh Division (EEOC v. Kaze USA, Inc. d/b/a Kaze Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar, Civil Action No. 5:10cv358 ) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement.
In its suit, the EEOC seeks back pay, reinstatement, compensatory damages and punitive damages for Hewitt, as well as injunctive relief.
“Many decision makers seem to forget that unless providing a reasonable accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the company, federal law mandates that the accommodation must be provided,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District Office, which includes the EEOC’s Raleigh Area Office, where the charge was filed. “No person should ever be forced to choose between their religion and their job.”
The EEOC enforces the nation’s laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. More information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.