N.C.: Beer Distributor to Settle EEOC Religious Discrimination Suit

By Rosemarie Lally Feb 23, 2015

A beer distribution business based in Raleigh, N.C., will pay $50,000 and adopt a formal religious accommodation policy as part of a consent decree entered into with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to resolve a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC.

The EEOC complaint alleged that Christopher Alston, a practicing Rastafarian, applied for a job as a delivery driver with Mims Distributing Company in May 2014. As a Rastafarian, Alston cannot cut his hair and, in accordance with his religious beliefs, had not cut his hair since 2009. Mims told the job applicant that he would have to cut his hair if he wanted the position. Alston responded that he could not cut his hair because of his religious beliefs and the company refused to hire him for noncompliance.

The alleged conduct violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires employers to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs if they do not pose an undue hardship to the employer’s business, according to the EEOC.

The EEOC attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement with Mims through its conciliation process, but when that failed, it filed suit Sept. 25, 2014, in federal district court in North Carolina.

In addition to monetary damages, the two-year consent decree resolving the suit requires Mims to adopt a formal religious accommodation policy and to conduct an annual training program on the requirements of Title VII and its prohibition against religious discrimination. The company also is required to post a copy of its anti-discrimination policy at its Raleigh facility.

"Employers are required by federal law to make exceptions to their dress and grooming policies in order to accommodate a job applicant's sincerely held religious beliefs – unless doing so would pose an undue hardship," according to Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District Office. "This case demonstrates the EEOC's continued commitment to fighting religious discrimination in the workplace."

EEOC v. Mims Distributing Company, Inc., E.D. N.C., Civil Action No. 5:14-CV-00538 (Jan. 23, 2015)

Rosemarie Lally, J.D., is a freelance legal writer and editor based in Washington, D.C.

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