UPS Settles Religious Discrimination Suit: A Reminder for Employers

Posted by Daniel H. Park on

Atlanta based United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) has agreed to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit for $4.9 million with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  In addition to the monetary payout, the settlement requires UPS to provide training to managers and supervisors, to publicize the right to religious accommodation on its websites, and to provide the EEOC with periodic reports of requests for religious accommodations.

The EEOC filed the federal lawsuit in 2015 alleging that UPS discriminated against job applicants and employees by not hiring applicants or promoting employees whose religious practices of wearing beards or long hair conflicted with UPS’s policy prohibiting male employees in supervisory or customer contact positions from wearing beards or growing hair bellow collar length.  The EEOC also alleged that UPS kept employees with beards or long hair for religious reasons away from positions requiring customer contact.  According to the EEOC, UPS’s appearance policy restricted advancement in the company for those who practice Islam, Orthodox Christianity, Orthodox Judaism, and other faiths. 

As we have discussed in previous blogs, with the growth of the #MeToo movement, the national focus has been on addressing sexual harassment in the workplace.  UPS’s settlement of the EEOC religious discrimination lawsuit serves as a reminder that employers must be vigilant against all forms of discrimination, including religious discrimination.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are prohibited from discriminating based on religion.  Religious discrimination can include:

  • Disparate treatment based on religion in recruitment, hiring, promotion, termination, or other aspects of employment;
  • Denial of a reasonable accommodation for sincerely held religious beliefs or practices unless such accommodation would impose an undue hardship.
  • Workplace harassment based on religion;
  • Workplace or job segregation based on religion;
  • Retaliation for requesting an accommodation.

As exemplified in the UPS case, employers can run into issues by refusing to provide a reasonable accommodation based on a religious belief or practice.  Common accommodation requests include an employee’s request for an exception to the employer’s dress and grooming code for a religious practice or an employee’s request for a scheduling change to attend religious services.

Generally, Title VII requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for an applicant or employee’s sincerely held religious belief unless it would cause an undue hardship on the employer’s business.  To satisfy this requirement, the employer must either (i) make a reasonable accommodation, or (ii) show that any accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business.  A reasonable accommodation is one that resolves the conflict between the individual’s religious beliefs or practice and the job requirements by either changing working conditions that conflict with the individual’s beliefs or practices or transferring the employee to a reasonably comparable position where conflicts are less likely to arise.

It is important to be proactive in taking preventative measures to protect against discrimination and harassment.  Employers should review their dress code and grooming policies to ensure they are compliant.  Employers would also do well to ensure harassment policies address all forms of harassment, including harassment based on religion.  Employers should also consider implementing a religious accommodation policy outlining the procedure for requesting a religious accommodation.