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Bojangles’ franchise sued for refusing to accommodate Muslim worker’s beard as required by his religious sect

The EEOC filed suit on April 4 alleging that Bo-Cherry, Inc, a North Carolina corporation that operates several Bojangles’ restaurants in the Charlotte metro area, violated Title VII when it failed to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs and then fired him because of his religion. The employee has been a practicing Muslim for the past 14 years.

As a male member of his Sunni sect, the employee is required to grow and maintain a beard that cannot be trimmed or cut unless it exceeds the length of his fist when holding his beard in his closed hand under his chin (fist length), according to the complaint. In keeping with his sincerely held religious beliefs, the employee has not trimmed or cut his beard unless it exceeded a fist length.

He applied for a job with a Bojangles’ restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina, and was interviewed by the restaurant manager for a food prep position. After the interview, the manager informed the employee that he might need to cut his beard, the EEOC said. The employee responded that he was a Muslim and could not cut his beard for religious reasons. He was nonetheless hired and worked at the restaurant the following day without incident.

However, the next day the manager purportedly told the employee that he was required to tell him to shave off his beard in order to continue working for Bojangles’. Although the employee reminded the manager that he could not cut his beard because of his religion and requested an accommodation of wearing a beard net (similar to a hair net), the manager refused, according to the EEOC. The manager told the employee to leave the restaurant and to not return to work until he had shaved off his beard. After the employee refused he was fired.

The federal agency is seeking back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, reinstatement or front pay, and injunctive relief.

“Under federal law, employers have an obligation to attempt a fair balance between an employee’s right to practice his or her religion and the operation of their business,” explained EEOC Regional Attorney Lynette A. Barnes.

“This situation, like most similar ones, could have been solved by an honest effort at a fair and practical accommodation,” added EEOC supervisory trial attorney Tina Burnside.

The EEOC filed suit in the Western District of North Carolina; the case number is 3:13-cv-00210.