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EEOC Sues Publix Super Markets For Religious Discrimination

Company Refused to Provide a Reasonable Accommodation for Rastafarian Employee's Dreadlocks, Federal Agency Charges

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Florida-based grocer Publix Super Markets, Inc. violated federal law by refusing to accommodate an employee with dreadlocks he wore in accordance with his sincerely held religious belief in Rastafarianism, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed yesterday.

According to the EEOC's suit, Publix hired Guy Usher at its store at 4324 Harding Pike in Nashville, but management told him he would be required to cut off his dreadlocks to shoulder length to work there. Usher told the manager he could not cut his hair because of his religion and asked if he could wear his hair in a hat. Management refused to allow the hat or any other reasonable accommodation, and he was forced to quit before his first day of work.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Publix Super Markets, Inc., Civil Action No. 3:17-cv-01308) in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks injunctive relief prohibiting Publix from discriminating against employees based on their religion in the future, as well as back pay, compensatory, and punitive damages.

"Management officials have a responsibility to consider all reasonable requests to accommodate employees' religious beliefs and practices," said Katharine W. Kores, district director of EEOC's Memphis District Office, which has jurisdiction over Arkansas, Tennessee and portions of Mississippi.

According to company information, Publix Super Markets, Inc., founded in Winter Haven, Fla., in 1930, represents one of the largest-volume grocery store chains in the United States and employs over 188,000 people.

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.