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HARRISBURG, Pa. (RNS) After being hired as a driver for UPS Freight, Nieland Bynoe, a Rastafarian, attended an orientation meeting last year and was told that he would have to shave his beard and cut off his dreadlocks to comply with the company’s grooming policy.
Bynoe, of Harrisburg, told company officials the next day that he was prohibited by his religion from doing what the company asked and requested a reasonable accommodation, but the company immediately fired him, according to a recent lawsuit filed on his behalf by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
UPS Freight officials did not return repeated calls for comment.
A federal judge is being asked to settle this dispute, and some experts said such cases are becoming more common as the country’s work force becomes more diverse.
The EEOC investigated 2,880 religious discrimination complaints in 2007, a record high and an increase of 13 percent from the previous year.
According to a manual the EEOC published this summer, employers must “reasonably accommodate” workers’ and applicants’ sincerely held religious beliefs unless doing so would impose an undue hardship, such as lowering efficiency or decreasing safety. The guidance is based on part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to the EEOC.
Some people have said “undue hardship” is a vague standard that might have been purposely written that way, said Michael J. Crocenzi, an employment lawyer with Goldberg Katzman in Harrisburg.
“That’s the conundrum, because if you start coming out with a list of rules, it would be a very, very long list,” Crocenzi said. “And what may be an undue hardship for a smaller company may not be an undue hardship for a larger one. … You have to take these situations on a case by case standpoint. These are difficult cases.”
But Terrence Cook, a supervisory lawyer for the EEOC, said the law is clear. Employers have trouble when they don’t have competent human resources personnel or legal counsel to help them with specific situations, Cook said.
Human resources “is an area that is simply ignored, particularly by smaller employers, but in this day and age, that’s a bad practice,” Cook said. “But in the UPS Freight case, a company of that size should have no question about the law. They probably have more lawyers than we do.”
By Carrie Cassidy
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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