Private employers in California and Tennessee settle disputes with Islamic workers

Friday, March 6, 1998

From press reports

After receiving letters from a Washington-based Islamic organization, private companies in two states settled complaints from Muslim employees claiming religious discrimination.

The Council on American Islamic Relations Wednesday said a Muslim woman who was fired from a California Boston Market restaurant for wearing an Islamic head scarf has been allowed to return to work.

The woman, a recent convert to Islam, wore the religiously-mandated scarf until the restaurant’s manager told her it violated the dress code and must be removed.

Peter Hillard, vice president for the food-chain’s human resources, said the company was mistaken in removing the worker for wearing the scarf and that she would be paid for the time missed because of the incident.

In Tennessee, the same group settled three separate complaints of religious discrimination from workers at a Whirlpool plant and a Nashville-based mail order processing company.

Muslim employees at a Whirlpool manufacturing plant in Lavergne have been denied the opportunity to pray during work. Muslims must pray five times each day at specific times. After the employees’ requests were denied the council sent a letter to the plant officials asking that they “work with its Muslim employees to develop satisfactory religious accommodations” that would balance the employees needs to practice religion with the plant’s operational needs.

The company’s director of employee relations said plant managers are working on a resolution with the employees that may include creating break schedules to fit Islamic prayer requirements and setting aside an area of the plant for prayer services.

At American Industries, a mail order processing company, Muslim employees recently quit after being denied the right to pray at religiously-mandated times. After being contacted by the council, executives for the company re-hired the employees and created break times for prayer.

Although government agencies may attempt to prohibit discrimination against employees based on an employee’s religious beliefs, the First Amendment’s principle of separation of church and state restricts the extent to which government may force a private employer to make accommodations for religious views and practices of employees.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, however, does mandate that most private employers cannot discriminate in hiring, payment or treatment of employees on the basis of their religion. The Supreme Court has yet to determine whether the federal law conflicts with the limitations placed on government by the First Amendment.