SEPTEMBER 29, 2017
Keeping with the Obama administration’s leftist agenda, the U.S. government sued a grocery chain this week for religious discrimination over the dreadlocks of a Rastafarian. Followers of the “Afrocentric” religion wear long, matted and knotted hair and smoke marijuana (“the spiritual use of cannabis”). There is no formal, organized leadership in Rastafarianism which makes it difficult to accept as an official religion protected by federal law. It was born in the slums of Jamaica and followers must have dreadlocks, long clumps of ungroomed hair symbolizing the mane of the Lion of Judah. Rastafarians believe Haile Selassie, the former emperor of Ethiopia, is God and that he’ll help blacks living in exile as a result of the slave trade return to Africa.
Jamaican reggae singer Bob Marley, who died in Miami in 1981, was among the best known Rastafarians and more recently a famous rapper known as Snoop Dogg became Rastafari and changed his name to Snoop Lion, according to a mainstream news report. “A key belief for Rastas is the notion of death to all white and black oppressors,” the story says, adding that “the most common outward expressions of Rastafari are Rastas’ dreadlocks, penchant for smoking marijuana and vegetarian diets.”
Before asserting that a dreadlock ban constitutes religious discrimination in the workplace, the Obama administration claimed it was racially discriminatory in a federal lawsuit. That case involved a black woman ordered by an Alabama insurance claims processing company to cut her dreadlocks because it violated its grooming policy. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces the nation’s workplace discrimination laws, sued the company, Catastrophe Management Solutions, for racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Obama administration said the lawsuit wasn’t meant to attack policies requiring employees to maintain hair in a professional, neat or conservative manner but rather focus “on the racial bias that may occur when specific hair constructs and styles are singled out for different treatment because they do not conform to normative standers for other races.”
A few years later the administration switched gears, asserting religious discrimination against a prep cook in an Orlando, Florida Walt Disney resort who was ordered to cut his dreadlocks. The company said the hair violated its appearance standards for employees. The cook, Courtney Joseph, refused to cut his hair because he was a practicing Rastafarian and dreadlocks were part of his religious beliefs so he was fired. The EEOC accused the company of violating federal law by firing Joseph over his Rastafarian religious practices. “Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious discrimination and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs so long as this does not pose an undue hardship to the business,” according to an agency announcement. The case was settled over the summer after the company agreed to pay the Rastafari cook $30,000 for violating his religious rights and implement a company-wide accommodation policy. Under the decree the company’s employee handbook and policy manual will be amended to include a clear policy for religious-based requests.
A new president takes time to settle in, but there was hope that by now the Trump administration would make much-needed changes at the EEOC by at least cutting back on these types of questionable legal actions against private businesses exercising grooming policies. In this week’s Rastafarian lawsuit, the EEOC is going after a Florida-based grocery store chain for illegally refusing to accommodate a new employee’s “sincerely held religious belief in Rastafarianism” by ordering him to cut his dreadlocks to shoulder length. The grocer, Publix Super Markets, has a Personal Appearance Standards website page that states male hair must “be worn conservatively styled, clean and neat — no fad cuts or fad colorings … not hang below the eyebrows or in the face … not hang or curl over the collar.” The Trump administration alleges in its lawsuit that Publix violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. “Management officials have a responsibility to consider all reasonable requests to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs and practices,” according to an EEOC regional director handling the case.
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