Ashanti McShan was 17 years old when she got a job at Burger King. But on her first day working there, a manager allegedly told the Dallas-area teenager to leave. Because of her Christian Pentecostal faith, McShan says, she had to wear a skirt instead of the restaurant uniform's slacks, and the manager wasn't having it, according to a religious discrimination lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
McShan says that she explained in her Burger King job interview in August 2010 that her religious beliefs require strict adherence to Scripture, which for her meant that as a female she had to wear skirts or dresses and never pants. It states in Deuteronomy 22:5: "The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God."
Her interviewer, a manager at the local franchisee, Fries Restaurant Management, purportedly told her that a skirt was completely fine, and hired her as a cashier. But when McShan showed up for orientation soon after at a Burger King in Grand Prairie, Texas, a different manager allegedly told her that the skirt was unacceptable and she had to leave.
McShan contacted her initial interviewer and another higher-up, but nobody ever called her back, according to Meaghan Shepard, the lead EEOC attorney on the case. "So she was left with nowhere to go, and no job."
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers must accommodate the religious observances of their employees, as long as those accommodations are "reasonable" and don't result in "undue hardship."
Fries Restaurant Management could not be reached for comment, and hasn't responded to the lawsuit yet, according to Shephard. But when the EEOC approached Fries to discuss settling the case, she says that the company refused, and generally denied McShan's allegation.
A dress-code exception is the second most common religious request that employees make, reports The Washington Times, behind permission to observe religious holidays. "Nationally, we do see a lot of uniform issues," Shepard said, although she admits that they're rare at her state EEOC office in the Dallas district. "We're Texas," she said. "We see a lot of race issues."
And when it comes to race discrimination or sexual harassment, "there's often a malevolence or anger," Shephard says. "But in religious cases it's often pure and simple ignorance of the other person."
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Most of these issues seem to involve Muslim or Sikh dress. In 2008, six Muslim women filed a discrimination complaint, alleging that they were fired from a tortilla factory for refusing to wear pants that they considered immodest. And earlier this month, 40 Somali Muslim women began a similar discrimination case against their former employer, a Minnesota dessert company, which apparently also demanded that they don slacks for the job.
In 2008, a Sikh musician filed a $1 million class action suit against Walt Disney World for denying him employment, because his turban and beard "did not fit the Disney image." And earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union sued Disneyland Resort for allegedly firing a Muslim employee for wearing a headscarf to work.
And in May, the New York City Transit Authority agreed to pay out $184,500 to eight current or former Muslim and Sikh employees who had been punished for refusing to attach the agency logo to their khimars and turbans -- in what the workers saw as a violation of their religious beliefs.
But several cases have also involved Christians, such as the man who sued a hospital, claiming that he was fired in 2008 for wearing a lanyard with the phrase "I [heart symbol] Jesus." And a Pentecostal Christian filed a complaint in 2008 very similar to McShan's lawsuit against Burger King. The plaintiff in that case said that she was denied a job as a bus driver because she wouldn't wear pants. And the end result should give McShan some hope; the transit agency ultimately agreed to pay the woman more than $47,000.
Shephard says that she's been particularly struck by the case of McShan, because "she's a very articulate, soft-spoken young girl." And during the investigation, she allegedly told Shephard that the incident had "changed the way she looked at the world."
"She didn't think people would ever judge her for something like that," Shephard says. "As a young person ... you don't think people are capable of treating you like this."
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