Quarter Million Dollars: For A Single Hair?

Another religious discrimination case has been settled – where a reasonable accommodation was easily achievable in the first place.

It involved a hair.

A major trucking company just agreed to pay $260,000 to settle religious discrimination charges filed with the EEOC.  It was alleged that four East Indian Sikh job applicants refused to provide a hair sample for the company’s drug testing policy because their religious belief is that they must maintain uncut hair.  They therefore requested an accommodation – any available alternative drug test – but were denied such an accommodation and not hired.


I posted before about pre-hiring drug screening where, for example, an applicant who had kidney problems could not pass urine but had offered to take an alternative test, and said that “there are alternatives to urine testing, such as blood testing and hair sample testing.”  An accommodation would not have been that burdensome.

This is the 21st century – there are alternative ways to test for drug use.

“More Hair Than Solomon”

In 2014 the EEOC sued a company which had revoked an oral job offer to a member of the Nazirite sect of the Hebrew Israelite faith who refused, on similar religious grounds, to provide a hair follicle sample used for a pre-hiring drug test:

“During a hair follicle drug test at a clinic the same day he received a job offer, he declined to have a lock of his hair cut starting at the scalp.  A nurse had advised him that the hair for testing could come from his head or beard, and [he] offered to — and did — pull hair from his beard, and offered to cut a lock of his hair starting in the middle.  [He] was nevertheless instructed to go home without the examination being completed.”


The test supervisor said that the applicant “has more hair than Solomon,” and refused to re-test him because he allegedly “created a negative scene” at the clinic.  He was not hired.

Seems like more than just inconvenience or “creating a scene” may have been involved.

The EEOC said, correctly, that “When a worker’s sincerely held religious beliefs can be accommodated without imposing an undue burden on an employer — as in this case — the employer cannot discriminate because of the worker’s religious beliefs and practices.”

I also posted about a religious discrimination suit brought by the EEOC against a Pennsylvania coal company in which it was alleged that the company refused to accommodate (and forced to retire) a long time Evangelical Christian employee who refused to submit to a biometric hand scanner to track employee time and attendance.  She claimed that there was a “relationship between hand-scanning technology and the Mark of the Beast and antichrist discussed in the Book of Revelation of the New Testament and requesting an exemption from the hand scanning based on his religious beliefs.”

The key here was a readily available and non-burdensome accommodation to track her time.

The EEOC was awarded a unanimous jury verdict on behalf of the plaintiff, and after a two day hearing, the federal judge in the case awarded a total of $586,860 in lost wages and benefits, and compensatory damages.   A lot of money when there are alternatives to biometric hand scanners when it comes to tracking time.

The EEOC General Counsel said that “This victory underscores two important American values: religious freedom and inclusiveness.”

And another EEOC official stated that “Many times when there is a conflict between an employee’s religious beliefs and a work rule, there are easy modifications to company policy permitting an employee to continue to work without violating his religious beliefs.”

Takeaway:  I do not foresee that religious discrimination cases will go away any time soon, nor will the law or the processing of charges change.  You have to seek an accommodation!

For employers and everyone else involved in the workplace, the EEOC has stated that it has many resources:

“EEOC has developed information to educate employers, employees, and the public about religious discrimination, including Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace and Best Practices for Eradicating Religious Discrimination in the Workplace.  Last December, EEOC released docu­ments for employees and employers that focused on discrimination against people who are or are perceived to be Muslim or Middle Eastern, and an accompanying background summary.”


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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]