Coalition for Religious Freedom in the Workplace
1156 Fifteenth Street NW
Washington DC 20005
Examples of Cases WRFA Would Solve
While many of America’s employers respect the religious diversity of their workforce, and take reasonable steps to accommodate employees’ religious practices, there are, unfortunately, exceptions. All too often, a supervisor refuses to take steps to accommodate employees’ religious practices, even when it is well within his or her ability to do so. This paper contains seven brief examples of cases in which ordinary Americans have suffered in extraordinary ways because their employers refused to take simple steps to respect their religious faith.
Amric Singh Rathour, Traffic Enforcement Agent
Mr. Amric Singh Rathour, a practicing Sikh, was sworn in as a new officer in the New York Police Department on June 18, 2001. During the eight-weeks of training that followed the swearing in, Mr. Rathour’s supervisor requested that he shave his beard and remove his turban. When Mr. Rathour refused to compromise the tenants of his faith that require men to wear turbans and beards, he was fired. In contrast, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department is not only willing to make the appropriate religious accommodation for Sikhs, but has actively encouraged Sikh Americans to become officers. Similarly, police forces in the United Kingdom, Canada and many other nations around the world accommodate Sikhs by permitting them to wear beards and turbans while serving as officers.
Teri Strickland, Personnel Manager
Ms. Teri Strickland, a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, worked for a temporary personnel placement agency located in Oklahoma City. Her supervisor was aware that she, like all Seventh-day Adventists, kept the Sabbath by resting from non-humanitarian work from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday each week. One Saturday, her supervisor called and requested that she come in to work on a project. Ms. Strickland replied that she would be happy to come into work after sundown, but due to her religious convictions, she could not come in before that time. The supervisor became upset and informed Ms. Strickland that if she didn’t come in, she would be fired. After being fired, Ms. Strickland struggled to find a new position. She did some part-time bookkeeping, and eventually turned to cleaning homes and selling her plasma to make ends meet. During this time, she completely depleted her savings and lost her home.
Zeinab Ali, Receptionist
Ms. Zeinab Ali, a practicing Muslim, worked as a receptionist for Alamo Rent-A-Car. In accordance with her religious faith, Ms. Ali wore a headscarf. Ms. Ali was asked by her supervisor to remove the headscarf. Rather than removing the scarf altogether, Ms. Ali replaced the scarf with a smaller head covering. After a protracted period of negotiations over the headscarf issue, Ms. Ali was laid off. Her efforts to gain legal redress have failed.
Peter Howard, Warehouseman
Mr. Peter Howard worked in the warehouse of Haverty Furniture Companies. A number of years after he began his employment with Haverty, Mr. Howard was ordained as a Methodist minister. On two occasions, Mr. Howard was forced to miss work because of his ministerial duties. On the second occasion, one of Mr. Howard’s parishioners died, and the funeral was set for a Saturday. Mr. Howard asked on Thursday to have the Saturday off so that he could perform the service, and was told to wait until Friday for a response. On Friday at 5:00 pm, the supervisor told Mr. Howard he could not take Saturday off to fulfill his religious duties. Mr. Howard went ahead and conducted the funeral, but when he returned to work he was fired.
Michael Escoffery, Delivery Van Driver
Mr. Michael Escoffery, a Rastafarian, worked as a driver for FedEx. As a Rastafarian, Mr. Escoffery wears his hair in dreadlocks. FedEx maintained a tight personal appearance policy that did not include exemptions applicable to the Rastafarian hairstyle. When Mr. Escoffery was asked to cut his dreadlocks, he refused. FedEx fired Mr. Escoffery in May of 2001.
Teresa George, Hardware Store Employee
Ms. Teresa George, a Roman Catholic who is convicted that she should not work on Sundays, worked for Home Depot. She communicated her religious conviction to her supervisor. Her employer offered to permit Ms. George to have time off on Sundays to attend Mass, but refused to accommodate her need to spend all of Sunday in rest and spiritual reflection. When Ms. George remained steadfast in her religious conviction, Home Depot refused to explore possible accommodations and fired her.
Richard Katz, Repair Technician
Mr. Richard Katz, an Orthodox Jew, applied to work as a repair technician with Sears. Mr. Katz received high marks on the employer’s test, but was told he would not be hired because he would not work on his Sabbath. Mr. Katz offered to work on Sunday nights instead of Saturdays, but this offer was rebuffed. Sears consistently told Mr. Katz that the reason for its refusal to hire him was that Saturday was the busiest day for repair technicians. Later investigations established that in fact Saturday was not the busiest day.