Orlando Staffing Company Fired Rastafarian Employee Because of His Dreadlocks, Federal Agency Charges
ORLANDO, Fla. - An Orlando staffing company dedicated to Central Florida's massive hospitality industry violated federal law by firing an employee over his Rastafarian religious practices, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.
According to EEOC's suit, Ramnarain II, LLC, which does business as HospitalityStaff, denied a religious accommodation to Courtney Joseph, a prep cook assigned by HospitalityStaff to work at the Walt Disney World resort hotel, Shades of Green, from late 2011 through February 2013, when he was fired. Joseph practices Rastafarianism, and wears his hair in dreadlocks in observance of his religious beliefs. Joseph worked at the jobsite with his dreadlocks tucked under his hat for over a year without question or incident.
Following a Feb. 5, 2013 inspection of the kitchen area by a Disney staff member for compliance with the Disney appearance standards, HospitalityStaff management told Joseph he had to cut his hair if he wanted to return to work, despite his explanation that he could not do so because he was a practicing Rastafarian and that he grew his hair into dreadlocks as part of his religious beliefs. Because Joseph did not cut his hair, he was prohibited from returning to work at Shades of Green. HospitalityStaff made no effort to accommodate Joseph's religious beliefs, and he was terminated.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious discrimination and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees' sincerely held religious beliefs so long as this does not pose an undue hardship to the business. EEOC filed suit (Case No. 6:16-cv-1250-T18-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. The agency is asking the court to grant a permanent injunction enjoining HospitalityStaff from further engaging in any employment practice that discriminates against employees because of their religious beliefs and requiring the company to reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs of employees in the future. The suit also asks the court to order HosptialityStaff to reinstate Joseph, grant back pay, provide compensatory and punitive damages and award any other relief the court deems necessary and proper.
"The law seeks to strike a balance between reasonably accommodating religious beliefs and respecting legitimate business concerns," said Robert E. Weisberg, EEOC's regional attorney for Miami. "A staffing company cannot avoid its legal obligation to reasonably accommodate an employee's religious beliefs based on a client's appearance policy."
District Director Michael Farrell added, "Employers, including staffing companies, are required under federal law to reasonably accommodate an employee's sincerely held religious practices, when the accommodation would not burden the employer's business operation. EEOC will continue to act when employers fail to meet that obligation."
EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about EEOC is available on the agency's web site at www.eeoc.gov.