Blackwell Security Services, Inc. must pay $70,000 to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency announced Jan. 31. The plaintiff worked as a concierge in Chicago and wore a beard as his practice as a Muslim. After he was hired, a Blackwell supervisor allegedly told the plaintiff that all male workers must be clean-shaven.
The plaintiff asked for a religious accommodation in the form of an exemption from this workplace policy. Management then allegedly told the worker that he could either shave or be fired, “even though accommodating his religious practice would impose no cost or operational burden on the business,” the EEOC stated. This caused him “significant distress,” per the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of religion and must accommodate workers therein unless it would cause undue hardship. Under the consent decree negotiated with the EEOC, Blackwell will also provide the pertinent managers with training in laws that prohibit religious discrimination.
Although the case was filed before the Israel-Hamas conflict, centered on Palestine’s Gaza Strip, intensified last October, the war has thrust religious discrimination concerns to the forefront.
An attorney told HR Dive that employers “can expect” disparagement of Muslims, Jews, Israelis, Palestinians and other similar ethnic groups as fallout from the conflict. HR must take corrective action, the attorney emphasized.
Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District Office, reaffirmed in a statement that Title VII protects workers from all backgrounds from religious discrimination, and requires that employers make reasonable accommodations unless facing undue hardship.
Regarding the Blackwell case, Gochanour added, “There was no need for this employee to be forced to choose between his religion and his livelihood.”