Monday, August 1, 2011

Is that a hair in my chalupa? (or, Taco Bell and EEOC battle over religious accommodation)

A Nazarite is one who takes a biblical vow to refrain from wine, wine vinegar, grapes, raisins, intoxicating liquors, and vinegar distilled from such, refrain from cutting the hair on one’s head, and to avoid corpses and graves, even those of family members, and any structure which contains such.

History’s most famous Nazarite is Samson, who famously refused to cut his hair because it was the source of his strength. Its second most famous might be Christopher Abbey, on whose behalf the EEOC has filed a religious discrimination lawsuit against a North Carolina Taco Bell that fired Abbey after he refused to cut his hair. From the EEOC’s press release:

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Abbey is a practicing Nazirite who, in accordance with his religious beliefs, has not cut his hair since he was 15 years old. Abbey had worked at a Taco Bell restaurant owned by Family Foods in Fayetteville, N.C., since 2004. Sometime in April 2010, Family Foods informed Abbey, who was 25 at the time, that he had to cut his hair in order to comply with its grooming policy. When Abbey explained that he could not cut his hair because of his religion, the company told Abbey that unless he cut his hair, he could no longer continue to work at the restaurant.

Two questions immediately leap to mind:

  1. What changed between 2004 and 2010, when the restaurant decided that Abbey could no longer work with long hair?
  2. What was so burdensome about Abbey wearing a hair net?

Someday, employers will learn that sometimes it is easier to make a simple accommodation than to dig in their heal and fight.

Written by Jon Hyman, a partner in the Labor & Employment group of Kohrman Jackson & Krantz. For more information, contact Jon at (216) 736-7226 or