A Taco Bell restaurant in Fayetteville, North Carolina was sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) for terminating an employee who refused to cut his hair because of his Nazirite religious beliefs.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Western Division, (EEOC v. Family Foods, Inc. d/b/a Taco Bell, 11 Civ. 00394), Christopher Abbey is a practicing Nazirite who, in keeping with his religious beliefs, has not cut his hair since he was 15 years old. Nazirites base their beliefs on references to individuals in the Old Testament who took a special vow of abstinence.
Abbey had worked at the Taco Bell restaurant since 2004. Sometime in April 2010, Family Foods, which owns the Fayetteville Taco Bell, informed Abbey, who was 25 at the time, that he had to cut his hair in order to comply with the restaurant’s grooming policy. When Abbey explained that he could not cut his hair because of his religion, the company told Abbey that unless he complied, he could no longer continue to work at the restaurant.
Taco Bell’s alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires employers to attempt to make reasonable accommodations to sincerely held religious beliefs of employees as long as doing so poses no undue hardship. In its suit, the EEOC seeks back pay, reinstatement, compensatory damages and punitive damages for Abbey, as well as injunctive relief.