EEOC: UPS’ Beard, Hair Rules Violate Title VII

United Parcel Service, whose policies on accommodation of pregnancy triggered a lawsuit that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, is now a defendant again in a major employment discrimination lawsuit, this time for alleged religious discrimination.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced today that is suing the delivery company over its policy that prohibits male employees in customer contact or supervisory positions from wearing beards or growing their hair below collar length. According to EEOC’s complaint, since at least 2004, UPS has failed to hire or promote individuals whose religious practices conflict with its appearance policy and has failed to provide religious accommodations to its appearance policy at facilities throughout the United States.

The complaint cited two instances of failure to accommodate religious practices. One was a Muslim who applied for a driver helper position in Rochester, N.Y., who wears a beard as part of his religious observance. According to the complaint, the company told him he had to shave to get the position. He also apparently was told that “God would understand” if he shaved his beard to get a job and that he could apply for a lower-paying job if he wanted to keep his beard.

In the second example, a Rastafarian part-time load supervisor in Fort Lauderdale, who does not cut his hair as part of his religious beliefs, asked for an accommodation of the appearance policy. His manager told him he did not “want any employees looking like women on (his) management team.”

Applicants of various faiths–including Christians and Muslims–were made to wait years for the company to response to their request for reasonable accommodation, the EEOC charged.

“UPS has persistently enforced its appearance policy even when that policy conflicts with the religious beliefs of its applicants and employees,” said Robert D. Rose, the regional attorney for EEOC’s New York 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.”

The pregnancy discrimination case that UPS was involved in was Young v. UPS, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in March. The court held that employers that accommodate workers with temporary disabilities may also have to do so for pregnant employees or risk being found liable under Title VII.

Read more about the new case.

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