Posts Tagged ‘religious discrimination’

Loose-fitting clothes and food machinery

Industrial safety specialists have long warned of the hazards of letting employees wear baggy garments around assembly-line machinery, hence the snug uniform, including pants, prescribed for both sexes by Mission Foods at its tortilla-making plant in New Brighton, Minn. Fatuma Hassan, an employee of Somali descent, claims it’s religious discrimination not to let her wear traditional garb. Thanks in part to activist groups eager to provide backup, Minnesota has become a flashpoint for Muslim employees’ demands for religious accommodation on the job: the cab drivers who refused to transport arriving airline passengers carrying duty-free alcohol and the Target cashiers who declined to scan pork apparently never made it to court, but complainants in the state filed 45 other cases with the EEOC last year. A class action is in progress against circuit-board maker Celestica on behalf of 22 employees, many of whom “were fired or suspended for taking unauthorized breaks at sunset. The changing Islamic prayer schedule was a key reason.” (“Cultural traditions can lead to conflict on the job”, AP/Rochester (Minn.) Post-Bulletin, Jun. 17)(via Michelle Malkin).

U.K.: discriminatory for hair salon not to hire headscarf wearer?

“The owner of a fashionable hair salon today denied being a racist after turning down a headscarf-wearing Muslim who applied for a stylist’s job. Sarah Desrosiers, 32, told a tribunal it was vital that all her staff show off ‘flamboyant’ haircuts at the Wedge salon in King’s Cross. And Miss Desrosiers, from Hackney, said 19-year-old Mrs Bushra Noah’s headscarf was out of keeping with the ‘ultra-modern, urban, edgy and funky’ style of her business. …Mrs Noah is claiming £34,000 in compensation for religious discrimination from Miss Desrosiers, who says she faces financial ruin if she loses the case.” (“‘Headscarf doesn’t fit our funky image’ says salon owner who turned down Muslim stylist”, Daily Mail, Apr. 1). Update Jun. 18: salon owner ordered to pay £4,000 for “injury to feelings”.

“FaithGuard” insurance product leads to bias suit

In order to enhance diversity, it was necessary to suppress it, cont’d: The GuideOne Mutual insurance company offers, in 19 states at last report, what it calls a “FaithGuard” policy rider with features it believes are valued by some churchgoers. In particular, to quote its critics, the rider

waives insurance deductibles if there is a loss to personal property while it is in the “care, custody and control” of the insured’s church; pays church tithes or donations if the insured suffers a loss of income from a disability; and doubles medical limits for an injury received while sponsoring an activity conducted on behalf of the church.

All three provisions might make a family feel more confident about pledging material support or volunteer time to its church, by limiting the potential financial downside in case of accidents or misadventure. But now GuideOne is on the receiving end of a lawsuit filed by the National Fair Housing Alliance, on the grounds that the rider discriminates against non-churchgoers — which is to say, by providing benefits they would have no interest in purchasing. In particular, complains NFHA,

The benefits of FaithGuard are not available to persons who suffer a covered loss or disability while engaged in similar activities but who are not religious, who do not belong to a church, or who do not attend church or participate in religious activities.

Of course people in these latter categories would never be inclined to purchase FaithGuard in the first place, any more than people who never step on airplanes would go out of their way to buy flight insurance. Instead, if they worry about the financial risk of accidents, they would select one of the innumerable insurance products readily available with no particular religious component. But to achieve religious nondiscrimination in the eyes of NFHA, it’s apparently crucial not just that we non-churchgoers have access to every sort of risk coverage we might take a notion to buy, but that FaithGuard’s customers not have access to one they might like. Will the result of this lawsuit if successful be more diversity? Or, again, less? (earlier). More: Rick Armon, “Akron suit claims insurance for churchgoers discriminates”, Akron Beacon Journal, Nov. 27; Religion Clause (Howard M. Friedman), Nov. 28.

Imams: we want to “hit [US Airways] where it hurts, the pocketbook”

Six imams (who had just attended a private conference on imams and the media and politics) were waiting for US Airways Flight 300 and decided to act rather provocatively: they shouted “Allahu Akbar!” loudly while praying in the waiting area, refused to take their assigned seats (instead squatting in the front row of first class and the exit rows—consistent with trying to control the entry and exit areas of the plane), demanded use of a seatbelt extension for the morbidly obese despite being only moderately overweight (and then placed the heavy-buckled potential weapons under their seats instead of on their seatbelts), and started speaking to one another in Arabic (which a fellow passenger translated as angry denunciations of America). They succeeded in the attempt to draw attention to themselves; the captain asked them to leave the plane, they refused, and were then arrested; the plane then underwent a 3.5-hour search for bombs.

“They should have been denied boarding and been investigated,” former air marshal Robert MacLean said. “It looks like they are trying to create public sympathy or maybe setting someone up for a lawsuit.”

Sure enough, the victimizers are now playing victim and threatening to sue under the auspices of the Muslim American Society (which was previously in the news for demanding that Muslim cab-drivers be permitted to refuse rides to passengers carrying alcohol) and the litigious Council on American-Islamic Relations (Apr. 25). The provocation, helped along by new Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), also appears to have its desired effect: “The Minneapolis airport plans to add a prayer room for Muslims, and Democrats plan to hold hearings on Muslim profiling.” (Audrey Hudson, “How the Imams Terrorized an Airliner”, Washington Times/Front Page, Nov. 29; Arizona Republic op-ed, Nov. 29; Debra Burlingame, “On a Wing and a Prayer”, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 6; LGF blog, Nov. 21; “Tale of Fibbing Imams”, Investors Business Daily, Dec. 4 via Powerline blog, Dec. 6).

Preggers, with tenure?

New right spotted on the horizon: that of continuing to teach at a private Catholic elementary school, though unmarried and pregnant, and despite having signed a pledge to “convey the teachings of the Catholic faith by [one’s] words and actions”. The New York Civil Liberties Union is suing to force St. Rose of Lima school in Rockaway Beach, N.Y. to rehire Michelle McCusker. A New York Daily News editorial says, “It’s called freedom of religion. By all rights, the NYCLU should defend the school’s position rather than assault it.” (“Bigotry – on whose part?”, Nov. 23; Josh Getlin, “Pregnancy sparks faith-based clash”, L.A. Times/Chicago Tribune, Nov. 27; John Leo, “The case of Michelle McCusker”, syndicated/TownHall, Dec. 5).

Update: U. of Utah settles won’t-swear actress’s suit

“The University of Utah agreed yesterday to let students opt out of activities that conflict with their religious beliefs, settling a lawsuit brought by a Mormon drama student who refused to recite lines that contained the F-word and took the Lord?s name in vain. Christina Axson-Flynn, 24, had sued the university in federal court, accusing it of violating her to right to freedom of speech and religion.” (“College, Mormon student settle theatrical-swearing case”, AP/First Amendment Center, Jul. 15; Elizabeth Neff and Shinika A. Sykes, “U. settles case over student’s rights on stage”, Salt Lake Tribune, Jul. 15). The “university will reimburse Axson-Flynn for tuition and fees paid during the 1998-99 academic year and, through the state’s risk management office, pay her attorneys’ fees of approximately $250,000.” (Angie Welling, “U., Axson-Flynn settle civil rights suit”, Deseret News, Jul. 15). See our coverage of Jan. 24, 2000 and Feb. 16, 2004.

Muslim trucker: you can’t make me haul beer

In Nashville, Tenn., Ibrahim Barzinji has sued his former employer, Arkansas-based J.B. Hunt Transport Inc., on the grounds that asking him to transport alcoholic beverages violated his religious beliefs. Barzinji, who is representing himself in the case, “said he had just trucked a load of auto parts from Clarksville to St. Louis on June 26 last year when he was asked to pick up a return load at the Anheuser-Busch plant.” He informed his supervisor that he was refusing to handle the cargo, and was dismissed. “A local labor and employment attorney said that, to prove his case, Barzinji would have to convince a judge or jury that asking to be assigned a different load was reasonable and would not cause undue hardship on the company.” The issue has come up before in a somewhat different context: “Muslim cab drivers at the Minneapolis airport several years ago began refusing to pick up passengers who carried duty-free alcohol, said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.” (Anita Wadhwani, “Fired Muslim truck driver sues employer”, The Tennessean, Jun. 23).

Update: Mormon actress can sue over script profanity

Updating our story of Jan. 24, 2000: “University of Utah theater professors may have violated the constitutional rights of a former student when they refused to allow her to omit profanity from an in-class performance, a federal appeals court ruled [Feb. 3].” Overturning a district court decision, the unanimous Tenth Circuit panel said Christina Axson-Flynn was entitled to a jury trial on her claim that the university theater program violated her rights when it refused to let her avoid reciting profane lines assigned to her characters, and that its claim to be standing on pedagogical principle was a pretext for religious discrimination. (Angie Welling, “Ex-U. actress to get jury trial in bias lawsuit”, Deseret News, Feb. 4). More: David Bernstein comments. Update Jul. 17: case settles.

Great moments in discrimination law

In Peterson v. Wilmur Communs., Inc., 205 F. Supp. 2d 1014 (E.D. Wis. 2002), a telemarketing firm demoted an employee when it discovered through a newspaper account that he was a “reverend” in the virulently racist World Church of the Creator, which preaches “racial holy war” and instructs its adherents that virtue consists in advancing the interest of the white race. The employee supervised eight workers, including three non-whites, and the employer said it felt that the latter employees would not be confident of having their work evaluated objectively under his supervision. A federal court held that although the man’s “church” professes no belief in a god, supreme being, or afterlife, what matters was that it holds itself out as religious and inculcates moral and ethical precepts which its adherents sincerely embrace with an intensity comparable to religious belief. The court concluded that the employer had violated federal law against religious bias. A law firm newsletter comments that henceforth employers “may risk allegations of religious discrimination if they fail to protect employees’ religious rights to believe in white supremacy. At the same time, they may risk allegations of race discrimination by nonwhite employees supervised by white supremacists. The decision also opens the door for other groups to reformulate themselves into religions.” (“White Supremacy Held To Be Religion Under Title VII”, McLane law firm newsletter, Nov. 2002 (PDF); Wimberly Lawson newsletter, Sept. 2002, GoogleCached; Holland & Knight Employment, Labor and Benefits newsletter, Jul. 29, 2002 (PDF); (California Chamber of Commerce), “Can You Believe This? Truth Beats Fiction in Employment Law” (list of strange and unusual labor law cases), Nov. 2003) (via Employer’s Lawyer). An account from the Southern Poverty Law Center downplays the significance of the ruling (“Race as Religion“, undated).