A Seattle man fired because of his beard later won over $66,000 because of that very same beard. The Seattle P-I reported on Abdulkadir Omar, a Seattle Muslim man, who was hired as a security guard by a security firm, American Patriot Security, to guard a Kent FedEx building. He was hired with his beard, which according to his religious beliefs he is not allowed to shave off. He started his first shift the same day he was hired and claimed that he was never informed of the security firms “clean-shaven” policy. What makes his claim more convincing is that Omar worked for the security firm for nearly six months before a supervisor from the firm’s California headquarters informed him that he had to shave his beard to conform to the firm’s policy. Omar’s refusal to shave, due to his religious beliefs, led to his suspension and subsequent termination. After his termination, he brought a federal lawsuit in Seattle against the security firm for religious discrimination. Even though Omar states that he sued for his and everyone’s religious freedoms and not the money specifically, he was awarded more than $66,000 for his discrimination claim.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees, and qualified individuals seeking employment, from discrimination based on the well-known protected grounds like race, religion, gender, and national origin. The law applies to employers with fifteen or more employees. It requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for religious practices. The accommodations must be reasonable, but employers do not have to make all accommodations or even the accommodations the employee requests just because they are reasonable. Employers also do not have to make accommodations that create “undue burdens” on their businesses. But employers and employees are expected to work together to find workable, reasonable accommodations prior to termination.
Washington has its own law, the Washington State Law Against Discrimination (WSLAD) which is slightly broader in its protections for employees. It includes the same protected grounds as the federal law, as well as other federally protected grounds like age and disability. It also covers sexual orientation and gender identity. The state law prohibits the same discriminatory practices as the federal law in hiring, firing, and in pay or other compensation. This law is broader in protection, with the additional protected grounds, and in application. The law applies to employers with at least 8 employees, instead of 15 for the federal law. However, the state law does not have an accommodation requirement for religious beliefs. A Seattle Times article reports on a pending Washington Supreme Court case that will, hopefully, determine whether employers must make reasonable accommodations under state law as under the federal law. If they determine employers must accommodate under both laws, then employees will have two avenues of relief. But until the current case is decided employees, particularly those denied reasonable accommodation, are protected and may still seek relief under the federal law like Abdulkadir Omar.
If you believe you have suffered from employment discrimination contact an experienced employment law attorney.