NEW YORK » A Muslim man who objected to rules requiring him to get rid of his beard if he wanted to become a driver for UPS Inc. was told by a UPS official that "God would understand" if he shaved, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner said in a lawsuit filed Wednesday against the shipping company.
The lawsuit in federal court in Brooklyn alleges that the man was one of several employees who were victims of religious discrimination in the past decade by the nation’s largest package delivery company. The EEOC wants the court to force the company to comply with Civil Rights Act protections and to award the plaintiffs back pay and unspecified damages.
"No person should be forced to choose between their religion and a paycheck, and EEOC will seek to put an end to that longstanding practice at UPS," said Robert D. Rose, an attorney for agency’s New York office.
UPS spokesman Steve Gaut said in a statement Wednesday that the Atlanta-based company has protocols in place for employees to seek permission for religious accommodations when it comes to appearance or work schedules.
The company "respects religious differences and is confident in the legality of its employment practices," Gaut said. "UPS is proud of the diversity of its workforce."
According to the suit, UPS has policies that prohibit supervisors and any employees who interact with customers from wearing facial hair below the lip or growing hair below the collar. It accused the company of deliberately withholding information from applicants and existing back-facility employees about how to seek exceptions to the policies, or by delaying their requests for waivers for so long that they gave up.
The alleged victims weren’t only Muslims: The suit says Rastafarian workers with dreadlocks in Florida and elsewhere were denied supervisory positions based on their beliefs and segregated into the back of facilities to be sorters. In one case, it says, a manager ignored a request for a religious exception by a worker trying for a promotion, telling him he "didn’t want any employees looking like women on his management team."
A Native American applicant who applied for a position in Stockton, California, tried to explain that he wore his hair long as part of his religious observance and offered to hide it under his shirt or in a hair net, the suit says. The alleged response: "No haircut, no job."