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Taco Bell sued by EEOC and man fired for refusing to cut hair

An interesting case involving alleged religious discrimination by Taco Bell is currently in litigation. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a religious discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit against Taco Bell for firing a man who refused to cut or groom his hair for religious reasons. The man is a Nazirite and followers believe that long hair shows devotion to God.

Taco Bell told the man that his long hair was a violation of the company's employee grooming policies and said that he had to cut his hair. The man was employed by the company for six years, but was fired when he refused to cut his hair. The man did not cut his hair for the six years he was employed. He was 25 when he worked for Taco Bell, and the last time he cut his hair he was 15 years old.

Employers are not allowed to discriminate against employees or job applicants on the basis of religion. This kind of discrimination is prohibited under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Employers are required under this federal law to provide reasonable accommodations for their employees' religious beliefs as long as such accommodations do not place an undue hardship upon the company.

It will be interesting to see whether the court believes that Taco Bell could have done more to accommodate the man's long hair without firing him. At issue is also health codes and regulations that dictate the preparation of food and cleanliness of workers. The court will have to decide whether Taco Bell could have done more or if they were justified in their decision because the man's grooming habits posed a public health risk around the food.

Source: The BLT, "A Hairy EEOC Fight for Taco Bell," Jenna Greene, 28 July 2011

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