Staffing Company Refused to Accommodate Rastafarian Employee's Dreadlocks, Federal Agency Charged
ORLANDO, Fla. - An Orlando staffing company dedicated to Central Florida's massive hospitality industry will pay $30,000 and implement a company-wide accommodation policy to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
The EEOC's lawsuit charged that HospitalityStaff violated religious discrimination law by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation to Courtnay B. Joseph, a Rastafarian, when it required him to cut his dreadlocks to comply with its client's grooming standards in order to keep his position at an Orlando-area hotel. The EEOC said that HospitalityStaff took Joseph off his assignment and never reassigned him.
Rastafarians wear dreadlocks as part of their sincerely held religious belief, and making an employment decision because of such a religious practice violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 6:16-cv-1250-CEM-DAB) in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
Under the decree, which was agreed to soon after EEOC filed its lawsuit, HospitalityStaff agreed to pay Joseph $30,000 in damages. The company will also amend its employee handbook and policy manual to include a clear policy providing for reasonable accommodations covering both disability and religious-based requests. Further, HospitalityStaff agreed to provide training to its managers and human resources personnel, and to voluntarily provide information to EEOC concerning its handling of religious discrimination complaints for three years.
"HospitalityStaff's decision to provide training and to implement policy changes relating to reasonable accommodations should be commended," said Kimberly A. Cruz, supervisory trial attorney for the EEOC's Miami District Office. "These policy changes demonstrate the company's commitment to providing reasonable accommodations to its employees with sincerely held religious beliefs."
Robert Weisberg, regional attorney for the EEOC's Miami District Office, added, "The Supreme Court's opinion in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch reminds us that we must be vigilant in protecting sincere religious expression in the workplace. This is particularly important where the Commission has recognized 'the increasing complexity of employment relationships and structures, including temporary workers, staffing agencies, and independent contractor relationships' in an ever more on-demand economy."
One of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) is for the Commission to address selected emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving both the application of workplace civil rights protections in light of the increasing complexity of employment relationships and structures.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.