Train bosses: Religious bias is illegal, too!

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Breakfast and lunch waitress Angela Harper, who is black, wore a headscarf at work, as required by her Muslim religious beliefs. When Harper asked about picking up more lucrative cocktail-hour and dinner shifts, she was told no openings were available. Yet over the next two years, the restaurant hired eight white cocktail and dinner waitresses.

Harper confronted the restaurant owner, who told her, “It wasn’t about your race, it was more about your scarf thing. [Customers] are not gonna want to see, you know, a girl like that on the cocktail shift.…”

Harper filed an EEOC claim for religious discrimination. The Civil Rights Act bans discrimination in the workplace based on many protected characteristics, including religion.

The court agreed that Harper deserved a trial. It sent the case to a jury to decide the restaurant’s fate. (EEOC v. Starlight LLC, No. CV-06-3075-EFS, WD Washington, 2008)

Advice: Train managers, executives and, yes, business owners that discrimination on the basis of religion is illegal. They need to understand that making assumptions based on religion—how certain customers would perceive Harper’s scarf, for example—is a virtual invitation to be sued. Hire and promote based only on skills and talent.

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