Saturday, August 28, 2010

Recent 7th Circuit Decisions Shows Importance of Proving What the Employer Knows

A man, Lord Osunfarian Xodus, sporting hair in dreadlock form and a Rastafarian and Hebrew Israelite adherent, applied and was rejected for a job with Wackenhut, a private provider of security services, because of Wackenhut's (and apparently many other comparable entities') grooming policy. In response, Xodus filed a complaint with the EEOC and then a federal complaint alleging Wackenhut violated Title VII for discriminating against his religion because Wackenhut's employment requirement with respect to grooming conflicted with his religion. The ultimate issue and where Xodus failed was in showing that he brought his religious practice to Wackenhut's attention.

The crux of this decision came down on whether or not Xodus expressly brought his religious belief to Wackenhut's attention through the interviewer and what was allegedly discussed during Xodus' interview with Wackenhut.

It is apparent that Xodus' religion never formally came up during his interview but Xodus argued that Wackenhut knew religion played a role because the word "belief" was used, Xodus had dreadlocks and his first name is Lord. The 7th Circuit was unconvinced and upheld summary judgment.
But unlike race or sex, a person’s religion is not always readily apparent. Reed v. Great Lakes Cos., Inc., 330 F.3d 931, 936 (7th Cir. 2003). “Even if he wears a religious symbol, such as a cross or a yarmulka, this may not pinpoint his particular beliefs and observances; and anyway employers are not charged with detailed knowledge of the beliefs and observances associated with particular sects.” Id. An employee has a duty to give fair notice of religious practices that might interfere with his employment. Id.; Redmond v. GAF Corp., 574 F.2d 897, 902 (7th Cir. 1978). On the other hand, an employer cannot “shield itself from liability by . . . intentionally remaining in the dark.” EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 417 F.3d 789, 804 (7th Cir. 2005).
Xodus simply failed to introduce enough convincing evidence that Wackenhut was aware of his religion which provides an important lesson to most any plaintiff in employment cases: you must let the employer know of your protected class!

The case is Xodus v. Wackenhut Corp., No. 09-3082.

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