The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued United Parcel Service Inc, accusing the world's largest package delivery company of discriminating against male workers and job applicants who wore beards or long hair because of their religion.
In a complaint filed on Wednesday in the Brooklyn, New York, federal court, the EEOC said UPS has failed since at least 2004 to hire, promote and accommodate Muslim, Rastafarian, Christian and other men whose grooming practices it found objectionable.
The EEOC said the Atlanta-based company forbids male supervisors, as well as male employees including drivers who deal face-to-face with customers, from wearing beards or growing their hair below collar length.
While UPS has faced individual lawsuits alleging religious bias, the EEOC said Wednesday's lawsuit is its first alleging a systemic, nationwide problem that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
"No one in this country should have to choose between a job and their religious beliefs and practices," said EEOC lawyer Elizabeth Fox-Solomon in an interview. "UPS has persistently failed to accommodate its employees and job applicants."
The lawsuit offered several examples of UPS' alleged bias.
It said a UPS hiring official told Bilal Abdullah, a Muslim, that "God would understand" if he shaved his beard to get a driver helper job in Rochester, New York in 2005, and could instead seek a package handler job that required no customer contact. UPS hired him for neither position.
The EEOC also said a Rastafarian part-time load supervisor in Fort Lauderdale, Florida was told by his manager to cut his dreadlocks because he "didn't want any employees looking like women" on his management team.
UPS defended its practices. "UPS respects religious differences and is confident in the legality of its employment practices," spokeswoman Susan Rosenberg said. "The company will review this case, and defend its practices that demonstrate a proven track record for accommodation."
The lawsuit was filed after the U.S. Supreme Court on June 1 revived a discrimination lawsuit accusing Abercrombie & Fitch Inc of refusing to hire a Muslim woman for a store sales job because she wore a head scarf.
Abercrombie claimed that the scarf did not comply with its dress code, but the court said the clothing retailer may have been motivated by a desire not to accommodate the woman's religion.
The UPS lawsuit seeks back pay, other damages, and new policies to end religious discrimination.
The case is EEOC v. United Parcel Service Inc, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, No. 15-04141.