Moving Company Refused Accommodation for Rastafarian’s Dreadlocks, Federal Agency Charged
HARRISONBURG , Va. – Moving and storage company Lawrence Transportation Systems, Inc., violated federal law when it refused to hire a job applicant because of his religion, Rastafarian, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a workplace discrimination lawsuit filed today. Lawrence Transportation, headquartered in Roanoke, Va., has approximately 276 employees.
According to the EEOC’s complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Harrisonburg Division (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Lawrence Transportation Systems, Inc., Civil Action No. 5:10cv97 ) Christopher Woodson applied for a job as a loader at Lawrence Transportation’s Waynesboro, Va., facility in May 2008. Woodson, who is Rastafarian, wears his hair in dreadlocks in accordance with his religious belief that he should refrain from cutting his hair. According to the EEOC, Lawrence Transportation refused to hire Woodson as a mover because he would not cut his hair, even though Woodson had fourteen years of experience in the moving industry, including several years with Lawrence prior to his conversion to the Rastafarian religion. To address the company’s concerns regarding the appearance of Woodson’s hair in relation to Lawrence Transportation's grooming policy, Woodson offered to tie his hair up, wear a head wrap or wear a cap over his head. The hiring official rejected Woodson’s offers and told Woodson that the company would not hire him if he did not cut his hair. Because Woodson refused to violate his religious beliefs by cutting his hair, Lawrence Transportation refused to hire him.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to attempt to make reasonable accommodations to sincerely held religious beliefs of employees as long as this poses no undue hardship. In its complaint, the EEOC seeks back pay, along with past and future pecuniary losses, past and future non-pecuniary expenses, compensatory damages, punitive damages and injunctive relief. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement.
“Employers need to ensure that their supervisors and managers who are called upon to make decisions on employees’ requests for religious accommodations are fully knowledgeable of the employer’s obligations under federal law,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District Office, which oversees litigation in the state of Virginia. “Many decision makers seem to forget that unless providing a reasonable accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the company, the accommodation must be provided. No person should ever be forced to choose between his religion and his job.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.