EEOC Goes to Court for Restaurant Server Forbidden to Wear Head Scarf as Religious Garb

Looks like a popular Philadelphia restaurant didn’t get the message that employers have to alter their dress codes to accommodate workers who need to wear religious garb.

The restaurant in question–Rotten Ralph’s–now finds itself a defendant in a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, when Tia Rollins applied for a server position at Rotten Ralph’s, she told the general manager that she did not wear revealing clothing and that she covered her hair because of her religion. Rollins’ religious beliefs require her to wear a khimar, a head scarf, especially during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. After Rotten Ralph’s hired Rollins, she wore her khimar to work without incident until the first time the general manager saw her wearing the khimar.

The EEOC charges that the general manager expressed outrage that Rollins was wearing the khimar. Rollins informed him she wore the khimar for religious reasons and needed to wear it while working. The general manager said that employees could not wear “hoodies” and refused to reason­ably accommodate Rollins’ religious beliefs. Instead, Rotten Ralph’s terminated Rollins because of her religion in violation of federal law, the EEOC charges in the suit.

The EEOC says that this incident falls squarely within the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Abercrombie & Fitch case, in which the justices held that an employer may not refuse to hire an applicant if the employer was motivated by avoiding the need to accommodate a religious practice. Such behavior violates the prohibition on religious discrimination contained in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

According to the Supreme Court, “an employer who acts with the motive of avoiding accommodation may violate Title VII even if he has no more than an unsubstantiated suspicion that accommodation would be needed.” The court continued that “… to accommodate a religious practice is straightforward: An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.”

Here’s the EEOC press release announcing the lawsuit.

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