EEOC Said Muslim Employee Fired for Wearing Head Scarf Shortly After 9/11 Attacks
PHOENIX – In a legal victory for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Arizona Federal District Court Judge Roslyn Silver ruled that Alamo Car Rental committed post-9/11 backlash discrimination based on religion when it terminated a Somali customer sales representative in December 2001 for refusing to remove her head scarf during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Alamo Car Rental is owned and operated by Ft. Lauderdale-based Alamo Rent-A-Car LLC and ANC Rental Corporation – a subsidiary of Vanguard Car Rental USA Inc.
In the first post-9/11 backlash case brought by the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office, the court took the unusual step of finding the religious discrimination so clear cut based on the pleadings that it did not need to be resolved by a jury.
“It is extremely rare that a court will find discrimination based solely on the pleadings,” said Mary Jo O’Neill, Regional Attorney for the Phoenix District Office. “The court found undisputed evidence that Alamo should have approved this employee’s request to wear her head scarf as a religious accommodation or proposed a reasonable alternative.”
According to Judge Silver’s ruling: “It is undisputed that the accommodation Alamo offered Ms. Nur required her to remove her head covering during Ramadan when she served clients but still required her to serve clients, making it impossible for Ms. Nur to avoid removing her head covering at work.” Accordingly, Alamo’s proposal would have failed to accommodate Ms. Nur’s religious conflict and was not a reasonable accommodation.”
The EEOC filed suit in September 2002 (EEOC v Alamo Rent -A-Car, LLC; ANC Rental Corporation, CIV 02 1908 PHX ROS) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona only after exhausting its conciliation efforts to reach a voluntary settlement.
Prior to being fired, charging party Bilan Nur had worked for Alamo since 1999. EEOC’s lawsuit asserted that the company had permitted her to wear a head covering for religious reasons during Ramadan in 1999 and 2000. However, following the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Alamo refused to permit Ms. Nur to observe this particular religious belief during December of 2001.
Alamo claimed that it told Ms. Nur that the company dress code prohibited wearing of a scarf. Notwithstanding Alamo’s representation, the EEOC found that the company had no such policy. When Ms. Nur refused to remove the religious garment, Alamo disciplined, suspended and terminated her employment following consultation with regional level human resources officials and in-house counsel.
“I am very pleased that the judge believed that Alamo’s actions were illegal,” said Ms. Nur, who now resides in Minneapolis. “No person should ever have to be forced to choose between her religion and her job. Alamo appeared to understand this before the horrible attacks of September 11, 2001. Then something changed. This has been an incredible nightmare for me and I am very grateful to the EEOC for its efforts to correct this wrong.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of their religion in hiring, firing, and other terms and conditions of employment. Employers must reasonably accommodate employees' sincerely held religious beliefs or practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. A reasonable religious accommodation is any adjustment to the work environment that will allow the employee to practice his religion
“Unless a religious accommodation imposes an undue hardship, employers are strongly advised to look favorably on such requests,” said EEOC Regional Attorney O’Neill. “Given the strong facts of this case, we are surprised that a large employer as sophisticated as Alamo has repeatedly refused to stand up and take responsibility for such a conspicuous violation of law.”
Chester V. Bailey, District Director for the EEOC Phoenix office, said: “As the court found, Alamo dismissed the requests by Ms. Nur for accommodation without consideration, in violation of the mandates of Title VII. This decision was made at the corporate Human Resources level apparently in consultation with in-house counsel., Alamo’s violation is particularly noteworthy given that one of the individuals involved in the disciplinary action wore a cross at work.”
According to its web site (www.alamo.com), Alamo Rent-A-Car is one of the nation’s largest rental car companies operating in 1,000 locations nationwide and internationally. The Alamo Rent-A-Car brand is owned and operated by Vanguard Car Rental USA Inc., a worldwide organization with more than 3,200 locations in 83 countries and a domestic fleet of more than 217,000 automobiles.
The EEOC is the federal government agency that enforces the nation’s anti-discrimination laws in the workplace based on race, color, sex (including sexual harassment and pregnancy), religion, national origin, retaliation, age and disability. Further information about the Commission is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.