Best Ohio Religious Discrimination Attorney Answer: Can a prospective employer ask me to cut my pe’ot? If I’m a Sikh, can my employer require me to shave my beard for safety reasons? If my Native American religious beliefs require that I wear long hair can I be denied employment because I refuse to cut my hair?
Refusing to hire a practicing Rastafarian who wouldn’t cut his dreadlocks just cost a North Carolina beer distributor $50,000. The damages, part of a consent decree resolving a religious discrimination lawsuit, stem from Mims Distributing Company’s refusal to hire Christopher Alston. Because Alston is an observant Rastafarian, he cannot cut his hair, and has not done so since at least 2009. When he applied for a job as a delivery driver with Mims, Alston was informed by the company that if he wanted the job, he would need to shear his locks. Alston told the company that his religious beliefs prohibited him from cutting his hair and, as a result of Alston’s candor and conviction, Mims chose not to hire him. (Our employment discrimination lawyers recently blogged about the United States Supreme Court’s oral arguments regarding religious attire and what should happen if an applicant does not explicitly raise the issue of his or her religion).
Many religions prohibit an individual from cutting his hair or beard, or both. Religious beliefs about grooming can create friction in the workplace when they conflict with company culture, dress codes, and safety regulations. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Ohio’s R.C. § 4112.02 each expressly prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of an individual’s religion. The federal and Ohio legal protections against religious discrimination in the workplace apply at all stages of the employment process and, in some instances, cover a person’s grooming practices.
Unless doing so would create an undue hardship, an employer must offer a reasonable accommodation to resolve a conflict between an employee’s sincerely held religious belief and a company policy. In the context of religious beliefs and grooming, courts are most likely to find an undue hardship when an employer asserts a legitimate safety rationale for its policy. Such was the case in Bhatia v. Chevron. In that case, Chevron required any employee whose duties involved exposure to toxic fumes to shave all facial hair in order to ensure a tight seal between his face and gas mask. Mr. Bhatia, a Sikh whose religion prohibited him from cutting his hair or beard, was a Chevron machinist whose duties made him subject to the no-beards policy. Unwilling to shave his beard, Bhatia was transferred by Chevron into a position as a janitor. This may seem like discriminatory conduct based on religion, but the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (Ohio) held otherwise. The court found that retaining Bhatia, even if it meant forcing him into a different, less desirable position, was a reasonable accommodation on the part of Chevron. The Court held: “An employer may prove that an employee’s proposal would involve undue hardship by showing that either its impact on coworkers or its cost would be more than de minimis. Yott v. North American Rockwell Corp., 602 F.2d 904, 908 (9th Cir.1979), cert. denied, 445 U.S. 928, 100 S.Ct. 1318, 63 L.Ed.2d 761 (1980). Chevron has established that if it were to retain Bhatia as a machinist and assign him to duties involving exposure to toxic gas, it would risk liability for violating California Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards. If, on the other hand, it retained him as a machinist and directed his supervisors to assign Bhatia to only such duties as involved no exposure to toxic gas, the burden would be twofold. First, Chevron would have to revamp its currently unpredictable system of duty assignments to accommodate the need for predicting whether particular assignments involved potential exposure to toxic gases. Second, Bhatia’s coworkers would be required to assume his share of potentially hazardous work. Title VII does not require Chevron to go so far.”
No such safety concern was present in Mims Distributing Company’s decision not to hire Christopher Alston, nor was there any other rationale that would lead to the conclusion that accommodating Alston’s belief would cause an undue hardship.
If you feel that you are being discriminated or harassed based on your religion or religious beliefs or that you were wrongfully terminated because of you are Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Hindu or any other religion, the best course of action you can take is to call the right attorney at (216) 291-4744 to schedule a free and confidential consultation. At The Spitz Law Firm, you will meet with a religious discrimination attorney, who will be able to tell you what your legal rights are and the best way to protect them.
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