Moving Company Denied Qualified Applicant Religious Accommodation and Refused to Hire Him Because of Dreadlocks, Federal Agency Charged
ROANOKE, Va. – A moving and storage company headquartered in Roanoke will pay $30,000 and furnish substantial relief to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed the by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The company, Lawrence Transportation Systems, Inc., also has facilities in Waynesboro, Va., and Greensboro, N.C.
In its suit filed Sept. 21, 2010, the EEOC charged that in May 2008 Lawrence Transportation violated federal law when it refused to hire Christopher Woodson, a Rastafarian, because he wore his hair in dreadlocks. Woodson holds the sincere religious belief that as a Rastafarian he should not cut his hair in honor of Jah, the name given to the higher power in that faith.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on religion and requires employers to accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs unless doing so poses an undue hardship.
The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 5:10CV 97) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Harrisonburg Division. A trial was held on June 9, 2011, that resulted in a mistrial after the jury could not agree on a verdict. Afterward, the parties reached a voluntary settlement embodied in a consent decree filed in the case.
In addition to monetary relief for Woodson, the consent decree requires that Lawrence Transportation provide significant remedial relief, including:
“Employers need to understand their obligation to balance employees’ needs and rights to practice their religion with the conduct of their business,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District Office. “Where there is minimal impact on the business, those religious needs must be accommodated. No person should ever be forced to choose between his religion and his job.”
Woodson commented, “I am pleased with the resolution of my case. I was never willing to compromise my religious beliefs for the job, even though working for Lawrence Transportation was important to me. I hope that other employees, especially teenagers and young people, will take my experience as validation that the American dream still exists and that one’s faith does not have to hold a person back from working in a job that he is qualified to perform.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.