News

EEOC files lawsuit against UPS on religious discrimination claims

Q&A with Nathan Whatley

published in The Oklahoman | July 22, 2015

Weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a Muslim woman’s religious discrimination lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch to proceed, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against UPS for similar claims.  According to the complaint, for more than a decade the delivery giant has failed to hire, promote, or provide accommodations to employees and job applicants whose religious practices conflict with the company’s appearance policy.  Specifically, the policy prohibits men in customer contact or supervisory positions from wearing beards or growing their hair below collar length.  Labor and employment attorney Nathan Whatley was interviewed by The Oklahoman about the lawsuit and what an employer must do to comply with federal anti-discrimination laws.

“In most instances, employers will be required to make exceptions to their normal rules or preferences to permit applicants and employees to follow dress and grooming practices that are based on the employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs,” said Whatley.

If an employer has a legitimate reason for questioning the sincerity or even the nature of a particular belief or practice for which the accommodation is being requested, it may ask for further information reasonably needed to make a decision, said Whatley.

“However, just because an individual’s religious practices may deviate from commonly followed tenets of the religion, an employer shouldn’t automatically assume that the observance isn’t sincere,” he said.  “Moreover, an individual’s religious beliefs — or degree of adherence — may change over time, yet may nevertheless be sincerely held. Thus the ‘sincerity’ of an employee’s stated religious belief usually isn’t in dispute in religious discrimination cases.”