When Christopher Abbey worked at Taco Bell, he didn't cut his hair for six years. As a practicing Nazirite, doing so was against his religious beliefs.
But Family Foods, Inc., a North Carolina corporation that operates a chain of Taco Bell restaurants in the eastern part of the state, told him he was violating the company’s grooming policy, and that he had to cut his hair or lose his job.
Abbey refused, and in 2010 he was fired. Today, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the company for failing to accommodate Abbey’s religious beliefs in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law requires employers to attempt to make reasonable accommodations to sincerely held religious beliefs of employees as long as doing so poses no undue hardship.
Abbey, who was 25 at the time, hasn’t cut his hair since he was 15.
According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina by EEOC regional attorney Lynette Barnes and trial lawyer Katherine Zimmerman, “Nazirites base their religious beliefs on references in the Old Testament to individuals who took a special vow of abstinence. In accordance with this vow, Nazirites do not cut their hair, believing that long hair is a way of showing their devotion to God.”
But it goes beyond haircuts. Webster’s Online Dictionary (citing the Mishneh Torah), reports that Nazirites are also prohibited from brushing or combing their hair because that could cause it to fall out.
In a statement, Barnes said the case “once again demonstrates the EEOC’s commitment to fighting religious discrimination in the workplace.”
The suit seeks back pay, reinstatement, compensatory damages and punitive damages for Abbey, as well as injunctive relief.