EEOC Sues Moving Company for Religious Discrimination: Debate over “Rasta Hair” at Center of the Storm

The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) has filed a religious discrimination suit on behalf of Christopher Woodson, a Rastafarian who allegedly did not get hired as a mover because of his long dreadlocked Rastafarian hair.

According to an AP article, Woodson applied to work for Lawrence Transportation Systems in May 2008. But the company denied him a chance to be a loader because of their “grooming policies.” According to a statement provided by the company’s lawyer, “[Woodson’s] hair was down to the middle of his back, and he was asked to get it cut to about shirt collar length.” The attorney said that, since loaders work closely with customers, the official policy stipulates “that hair, facial hair, beards and general grooming must be neat, clean and trimmed.” Hiring someone who looks like Woodson, in other words, would cause the company “undue hardship” and a loss of business.

The EEOC has counter-argued that Rastafarians “view growing their hair unbridled as a tenet of their religion.” Therefore, the company’s decision not to hire Woodson violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC wants Lawrence Transportation to pay for Woodson’s back pay as well as pay punitive damages and recalibrate its hiring policies.

As this story illustrates nicely, cases of religious discrimination, sexual harassment, wage and hour violations, and retaliation can get quite complex. The law is full of nuances. And cases which may seem to be “straightforward” examples of employment discrimination or harassment may be far more layered than they initial appear to be in media reports.

To that end, if someone in your life has experienced workplace religious discrimination, harassment, retaliation, or another kind of mistreatment, it’s worth your while to get an objective legal opinion about whether you have a case — and, if so, about how you should proceed. Connect with the attorneys at Joseph & Kirschenbaum today for a free consultation – dial (212) 688-5640, or visit www.jhllp.com.