$150,000 For A Hair: A New Settlement

The case involved a hair – that now costs $150,000.

A steel company made an oral job offer to an applicant, contingent upon his successful completion of a pre-employment drug test which required a hair follicle sample.  However, the applicant was a member of the Nazirite sect of the Hebrew Israelite faith, which forbids the cutting of scalp hair.  As the EEOC said, “he sincerely believes that the Old Testament forbids him from cutting hair from his scalp.”

The company told him that he could provide a hair from his beard — which was sufficient for the test.  Although he in fact provided a hair from his beard, the test was never completed because the test supervisor refused to re-test him — because he allegedly “created a negative scene” at the clinic.

The test supervisor said that he had “more hair than Solomon.”

He was not hired.  He sued for religious discrimination and retaliation.

At the time, the EEOC said 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. This lawsuit will send a message to employers that the EEOC will vigorously enforce federal law by prosecuting companies which deny equal opportunity to religiously observant workers who seek to adhere to the tenets of their faith.”

Now, after 2½ years of litigation, a settlement was reached for $150,000. That’s a lot for a hair.

A Similar Case Settled Last Year

A few months ago, a major trucking company 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 religion requires the maintenance of 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.

Takeaway:  Another religious discrimination case has been settled – where a reasonable accommodation was easily achievable in the first place.  This is the 21st century – there are alternative ways to test for drug use.

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]