Christopher Abbey had worked at the restaurant for six years before the length of his hair became an issue. Abbey subscribes to the Nazarite faith, which upholds Old Testament teachings that long hair shows one’s devotion to God. Abbey, 27, has been a Nazarite since age 15 and has not cut his hair since then. He had always worn a hair net while at work.
After he was fired last year, Abbey complained to the EEOC, alleging that Taco Bell failed to accommodate his religious beliefs. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires employers to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs unless doing so would constitute an undue burden for the employer.
After EEOC efforts to mediate the dispute failed, the commission filed suit seeking back pay and benefits, as well as demanding that Taco Bell return Abbey to his old job. Unless the parties agree to settle, the case will go to trial in federal court.
Note: Religious accommodations are tricky affairs. Employers that fail to accommodate an employee’s religious belief must be prepared to show how the accommodation would constitute an undue burden in terms of cost or workplace disruption.