Weekly Recap: Religious Discrimination Uptick Exemplified by $260,000 Settlement by Shipping and Trucking Company to Sikh Workers and $175,000 Settlement for Racial Discrimination of San Diego Cop

We report an uptick in the number of religious discrimination cases in California. An interesting settlement this past week personifies the type of narrow minded and outdated policies that some California companies persist in enforcing. The case involves several truck drivers working for a large shipping and trucking company named J.B. Hunt. The drivers were of the Sikh faith and alleged religious discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). The crux of the allegation was that the truck drivers were not granted work due to the fact that they refused to cut their hair for pre-employment drug screening tests. In the Sikh faith (and other faiths for that matter), cutting one’s hair is prohibited. An additional claim from a Sikh driver alleged that he was denied work because he refused to remove his turban when he reported for the urine sample screening.

The four Sikh truck drivers requested alternate drug tests while explaining that cutting one’s hair and removing the turban were required by their religious beliefs. However, the company insisted on the policy of obtaining a hair sample and requiring the removal of one’s headwear during the urine sample screening. Even when the truck drivers offered alternate options (which included nail samples), the company reluctantly refused. In the end, the company settled with the four drivers by making a $260,000 payment, retraining its personnel, changing its practices to align with anti-discrimination laws, allowing the truck drivers to reapply and providing them with reasonable accommodation, and submitting progress reports to the EEOC for two years.

By law, companies are required to provide reasonable accommodation for those with religious requirements at work. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) strictly prohibit employers from discriminating against an employee who belongs to a “protected class.” Under Title VII, it is unlawful for employers to discharge or discriminate against individuals in their compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of their religion. Similarly, under FEHA, an employer may not, because of the race or national origin of a person, treat that person differently in in terms, conditions or privileges of employment. (Cal. Gov’t Code §12940(a).) One item in which the two laws are different is that Title VII applies to those who employ at least 15 individuals in a year, while FEHA applies to California employers with at least 5 employees in a year. Most recently, California passed laws expanding this reach to enable most lawsuits to be filed against smaller employers. See these other blogs for updates.

In another settlement, the San Diego Police Department paid a former police officer $175,000 after his allegations that he was fired for making complaints of racism such as racial slurs to his superiors. If you believe that you, or another employee, suffered an employment law matter related to religious discrimination, racial discrimination, or retaliation in the workplace, prompt action to preserve your rights is vital since the statute of limitation is a short one year. Contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Stephen Danz & Associates for a free no obligation consultation to discuss your circumstances and legal options.