The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission recently sued United Parcel Service, Inc., claiming the country’s largest package delivery company violated federal law by discriminating against employees’ religious rights.
The EEOC complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleges that the company has failed to hire applicants and promote employees who wore either long beards or long hair due to their religion. The company’s policy requires supervisors and employees who come in contact with customers to shave their beards and also prohibits male employees in such positions from growing their hair below collar-length.
As an industry giant, UPS supports a sophisticated HR department that oversees roughly 300,000 employees nationwide. What went so wrong?
According to an EEOC statement, there were many examples of religious discrimination over the years. It mentions a Muslim who applied for a driver position in Rochester, NY. The man, who wore a beard as part of his religious observance, was told “he had to shave to get the position,” that “God would understand,” and that “he could apply for a lower-paying job if he wanted to keep his beard.” EEOC also pointed to Muslim and Christian employees at other UPS facilities who were “forced to shave their beards while they waited months or years for UPS to act on their requests for religious accommodation.”
Likewise, a part time load supervisor in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., who was a Rastafarian, also did not cut his hair because of his religious beliefs. His manager told him that he did not “want any employees looking like women on (his) management team.” Apparently, the 1960s memo about gender equality has not reached everyone yet.
Rastafarians at other UPS facilities around the country were also denied positions. Some waited years for their requests for religious accommodations to be granted before getting positions they wanted.
Seems like we’ve been down this path before – companies blamed for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Just last June, for instance, the US Supreme Court accused Abercrombie & Fitch violated a Muslim woman’s religious rights when it refused to hire her for a store sales job because she wore a headscarf.
In this matter, “UPS has persistently enforced its appearance policy even when that policy conflicts with the religious beliefs of it applicants and employees,” states Robert D. Rose, the regional attorney for EEOC’s NY District Office. “No person should be forced to choose between their religion and a paycheck, and EEOC will seek to put an end to that longstanding practice at UPS.”
Not to fast. UPS is defending its employment practices, claiming they are legal and respect and accommodate religious differences. Automated forms for requesting religious accommodations are even posted on it website, www.upsjobs.com, adds Susan Rosenberg, a UPS spokesperson.
“UPS has for many years had protocols for employees to request religious accommodations including variations for appearance and grooming guidelines (i.e., hair length, beard) or work schedule adjustment for prayers,” she explains. “The company will review this case, and defend its practices that demonstrate a proven track record for accommodation.”
Stay tuned. This battle has just begun.Twitter It!