“Ismeal alleges that we terminated him because of his religious beliefs,” said HR Manager Alan Frankel. “He’s suing us for religious discrimination.”
“That’s a surprise,” said Supervisor Margie Brunton, “considering that we had a legitimate reason for firing him.”
“Ismeal says that he’s Rastafarian,” said Alan, “and that he’s required to have facial hair as part of his religious beliefs.”
“Yes, that’s what he told us too,” said Margie. “As you know, however, we hired Ismeal to perform a job that required the use of a respirator. His facial hair would’ve reduced the effectiveness of the safety gear, so we asked him to shave his goatee.”
“How did Ismeal respond?” asked Alan.
“He said that he wanted to keep his facial hair,” said Margie, “so we offered him another job with the same pay and benefits, but he turned it down.”
“What happened next?” asked Alan.
“Before deciding what to do about Ismeal’s facial hair,” said Margie, “we did a Google search of his name. We learned that he’d sued a previous employer for bias after he was terminated, which was inconsistent with what he’d told us during the hiring process.”
“What did Ismeal say to us at the time of his hire?” asked Alan.
“Ismeal said he’d never previously been fired,” said Margie, “but our search showed that he had been, so we terminated him for lying on his job application. Every person who ever lied on a job application here has been let go.”
“It sounds like we were justified in dismissing Ismeal,” said Alan. “We’ll fight this lawsuit.”
Did the company win?
Yes. The company won. The court ruled that the Rastafarian worker couldn’t proceed with his religious discrimination lawsuit.
The judge pointed out that the employer tried to work with the crew member in order to accommodate his religious beliefs. For instance, the company offered to move him to another job with similar pay and benefits, but the worker refused that proposed accommodation.
The court also decided that the company provided a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for firing the man: He lied on his job application. The judge noted that every previous worker caught lying on a job application had been let go, so the employer had a legitimate reason for terminating the staffer, and it had nothing to do with his religious beliefs.
What it means: Pursue a suitable accommodation
A word to the wise: As soon as a member of your crew requests an accommodation for a sincerely held religious belief, you’re obligated to work with him or her to find something that’s suitable for both the employee and the company.
Remember that a genuine effort to accommodate a crew member’s religious beliefs will go a long way toward defeating any allegations of religious discrimination. It’s also important to provide a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for firing a crew member, as the employer in the case was able to do.
Based on Bailey v. Metro Ambulance Services, Inc.
(From the June 11, 2021, issue of HR Manager’s Legal Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)