Ground Services Contractor Refused to Accommodate or Employ Muslim Women Who Requested to Cover Their Hair and Wear Skirts, Federal Agency Charges
DENVER -- A Florida-based airline ground services company violated federal law by refusing to accommodate or hire Muslim female applicants and employees over hair and dress issues, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Denver. The agency also alleged that women were retaliated against after they requested religious accommodations and/or complained about discrimination.
According to the EEOC's suit, when JetStream Ground Services, Inc., assumed the contract to clean cabins for United Airlines in 2008 at Denver International Airport (DIA), it refused employment to Safia Abdulle Ali, Sahra Bashi Abdirahman, Hana Bokku, Sadiyo Hassan Jama, Amino Warsame and other female Muslim applicants and employees at DIA who requested a deviation from the company's dress code policy in order to comport with their religious beliefs. JetStream did this even though many of the women had worked for years cleaning cabins for United Airlines with JetStream's predecessor, Air Serv. Corporation, with accommodations. But when the women came to interview with JetStream alongside other Air Serv. employees, they were criticized by management for their appearance, refused accommodations, and denied employment.
Failing to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals because of sincerely held religious beliefs and/or practices violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires employers to engage in a good-faith interactive process with employees to provide workplace accommodation for sincerely-held religious beliefs and/or practices absent undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado (EEOC v. JetStream Ground Services, Inc., 1:13-cv-02340 CMA) after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through its conciliation process.
The EEOC seeks monetary damages on behalf of Ali, Abdirahman, Bokku, Jama, and Warsame, as well as other female Muslim applicants and employees at DIA who were denied accommodation, equal employment opportunities, or retaliated against for requesting accommodations or complaining of discrimination. The agency also seeks training on anti-discrimination laws, an injunction, posting of anti-discrimination notices at the worksite and other injunctive relief.
"Under federal law, employers have an obligation to explore options for accommodating religiously observant employees," said EEOC Phoenix Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill. "An employer is required to accommodate employees' religious beliefs so long as doing so does not create an undue burden on the employer. In many faiths, including certain Baptist and Pentecostal congregations, the Greek Orthodox Church, Orthodox Judaism, and Islam, to name just a few, women have dress requirements as part of their sincerely held religious beliefs. An employer cannot refuse an accommodation or deny women employment simply because it does not like how they dress."
Denver EEOC Field Director Nancy Sienko added, "A deviation from a dress code is one of the simplest and least onerous accommodations an employer can offer. When they refuse to accommodate female dress requirements found across many religions, employers disproportionately isolate women from the workforce and discriminate based on religion."
JetStream, headquartered in Jupiter, Fla., provides ground services to airline fleets across the country.
The Colorado Civil Right Division (CCRD) partnered with the EEOC by completing the initial investigation of the original allegations of discrimination. The EEOC partners with state and local Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs), such as CCRD, in order to enforce employment discrimination laws. The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.