The nation’s largest bus carrier will pay tens of thousands of dollars to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. government for refusing to bend its uniform policy to let a Muslim driver wear a long, loose-fitting robe symbolic of Islamic piety. The flowing garment, known as an abaya, looks like a frock or cloak and is designed to cover a woman’s entire body in public. A few years ago, women in Saudi Arabia, where Sharia law mandates the Islamic robes to comply with decency laws, launched a protest against the abaya.
Here in the U.S., a nationally recognized company got sued by the government about a year and a half ago over a uniform dispute that banned a female Muslim driver from wearing the vestment on the job. The offender is Dallas-based Greyhound Lines, the country’s largest provider of intercity bus transportation. In the summer of 2019 the government accused Greyhound of violating the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on religion and requires employers to reasonably accommodate the employee, or job applicant’s, sincerely held religious beliefs. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces the nation’s workplace discrimination laws, filed a complaint against Greyhound in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division. The agency demanded back pay, reinstatement and compensatory damages for the unnamed Muslim woman and punitive damages for Greyhound.
“The driver was able to perform her duties safely while wearing her religious garb, but Greyhound unjustly refused to accommodate her religious beliefs,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “No employee should be forced to choose between practicing her sincerely held religious beliefs and earning a living.” A district director for the agency is quoted saying that “as our workplaces become more diverse, employers should review their policies and practices, including making reasonable adjustments to dress codes, in order to accommodate the religious beliefs of applicants or employees, unless it would be an undue hardship.” During the Obama administration the EEOC took a special interest in protecting followers of Islam and the agency dedicated a lot of resources to pursue businesses that refused to change longtime policies for Muslim workers, but the Greyhound case was surprising because it was filed under the Trump administration.
This month the EEOC announced that Greyhound will pay $45,000 in “monetary relief” to the Muslim woman and, as part of the settlement, the company will assure officers and management employees with supervisory responsibility do not discriminate based on religion. In the legal agreement with the government, Greyhound also pledges to provide training on religious accommodations, report to the EEOC on how it handles future religious accommodation requests and post a notice about the settlement. “The EEOC is gratified that Greyhound worked with us to reach an amicable settlement which compensates the applicant and ensures that no employees or applicants are discriminated against based on religion,” said Lawrence, the EEOC regional attorney handling the case.
Under the Trump administration the EEOC also got a $90,000 settlement for a Muslim man who was not accommodated by a southern California security company that refused to modify its longtime grooming standards. It also constituted religious discrimination, according to the government, because the Muslim employee requested the grooming exemption in accordance with his “sincerely held religious beliefs.” The settlement also forced the company, Allied Universal, to hire an equal employment monitor and revise its religious accommodation policies. The Obama EEOC takes the prize for lawsuits on behalf of Muslims in the American workforce, however. The agency sued a clothing retailer with a policy against head covers of any kind for religious discrimination because it would not allow a female employee at one of its stores to wear a head scarf as required by Islam. An Obama-appointed federal judge in northern California handed the administration a victory, ruling that the Muslim woman’s civil rights were violated. The EEOC also helped two Muslim truck drivers get a hefty cash settlement after being fired for refusing to transport alcohol because it violated their religious beliefs. The judge in that case, an Obama appointee in Illinois, ruled in favor of the Muslims and the Peoria-based trucking company had to pay $240,000 in punitive damages. Following the San Bernardino terrorist attacks in late 2015, the Obama EEOC issued a warning regarding workplace discrimination “against individuals who are, or perceived to be, Muslim or Middle Eastern.”