A service station technician claims his former employer’s grooming policy, which prohibited facial hair, discriminated against him due to his religion.
Bobby Brown was employed by a Jiffy Lube in Massachusetts. He worked on vehicles and doubled as a salesperson, greeter and cashier.
The Jiffy Lube franchise owner brought in a consultant to determine how to improve business.
Among the recommendations was that the shop institute a grooming policy for its employees who had customer contact.
The policy stated, “customer-contact employees are expected to be clean-shaven with no facial hair … hair should be clean, combed, and neatly trimmed or arranged. Radical departures from conventional dress or personal grooming and hygiene standards are not permitted.”
Brown is a Rastafarian, a religion he had adhered to for ten years. The religion does not permit him to shave or cut his hair.
The employee told the Jiffy Lube’s manager that he wanted to maintain customer contact without having to shave or cut his hair.
The manager told him if he didn’t comply with the new grooming policy, he’d only be allowed to work in the lower bay and could not have customer contact.
In response to his lawsuit, the Jiffy Lube argued that allowing an exemption to its grooming policy would be an undue hardship because it had a right to control its public image.
In a deposition, the owner presented evidence that sales increased after the grooming policy went into effect.
However, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said the evidence was insufficient to show increased profitability was caused by the policy, so Jiffy Lube did not prove it had an undue hardship.
The court remanded the case back to a lower court to determine whether assigning Brown to the lower bay where he’d have no customer contact was a reasonable accommodation.
Religious appearance requirements may include hair, yarmulkes, veils and even the mark on the forehead that denotes Ash Wednesday. What do you think about this case and the potential conflict between workplace grooming rules and religious freedom? Let us know via the Comments Box below.
Brown v. F.L. Roberts & Co., Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, No. 10155, 12/2/08. You can click here to download the court’s decision.
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