Thursday, August 5, 2010

Muslim Head Gear Ban Allowed by 3rd Circuit - Case of the Week #1

In EEOC v. Geo Group Inc., the Third Circuit held that a private contractor that runs prisons could ban Muslim head coverings, called khimars, under Title VII. The EEOC filed suit on behalf of a class of Muslim women who wore khimars and refused to comply with the company's dress code prohibiting hoods, hats, caps, scarves, etc.

First, a recap of a prima facie case of workplace religious discrimination:
(1) she holds a sincere religious belief that conflicts with a job requirement;
(2) she informed her employer of the conflict; and
(3) she was disciplined for failing to comply with the conflicting requirement.
BUT the employer can then show that either:
[1] it made a good-faith effort to reasonably accommodate the religious belief, or
[2] such an accommodation would work an undue hardship upon the employer and its business.
The employer argued that granting an exception for the khimars would impose an undue hardship by compromising the prison's security and safety. Specifically, including that:
(1) khimars, like hats, could be used to smuggle contraband into and around the Hill Facility,
(2) that khimars can be used to conceal the identity of the wearer, which creates problems of misidentification, and
(3) that khimars could be used against a prison employee in an attack.
The Court agreed, affirmed summary judgment for the employer.

This case reaffirms the principle that workplace safety and security can trump religious accommodations. An important part of the Court's analysis, however, focused on prison administration and noted that "prison is not a summer camp." And chances are, your workplace is not a prison. So employers should by no means consider this a green light to ban head scarves.

Citation: E.E.O.C. v. Geo Group, Inc., 2010 WL 2991380 (3d Cir. Aug. 2, 2010).

Case of the Week is a weekly feature. On Fridays I will cover a particularly important, fun , or interesting employment law case. This is entry #1. All Case of the Weeks are tagged COTW.

Posted by Philip Miles, an employment lawyer with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania.