Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bans religious discrimination, but this case is stretching it: two Muslim truck drivers in Illinois were fired when they refused to transport alcohol. They sued the company, which has since gone out of business, and won over $240K.
Like it or not, US law states that employers must excuse their employees from tasks they find religiously objectionable. Former truck drivers Mahad Abass Mohamed and Abdkiarim Hassan Bulshale were fired when they refused to transport alcohol. They claimed that doing so violates their religious beliefs.
With the help of the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), the two Somalis sued Star Transport for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Star Transport, now out of business, lost the case and will be forced to give each of the men $121,500.
“Our investigation revealed that Star could have readily avoided assigning these employees to alcohol delivery without any undue hardship, but chose to force the issue despite the employees’ Islamic religion,” said John P. Rowe of the EEOC.
The EEOC argued that Star did not provide “reasonable accommodations” (including exemption from duties) to Mohamed and Bulshale. They also noted that Star often swaps loads between truck drivers, and that it would not have been difficult for the company to accommodate Mohamed and Bulshale’s wishes.
Star conceded to this allegation. The transportation company probably could have won the case if they fought back, for instance stating that swaps are difficult due to paperwork and logistics – not to mention the “forced dispatch” policy, which generally requires truck rivers to deliver what they are told.
Attorney June Calhoun argued that Star’s decision to fire the two Muslims resulted in catastrophe: “Star Transport failed to provide any discrimination training to its human resources personnel, which led to catastrophic results for these employees. They suffered real injustice that need to be addressed.”
“By this verdict,” says Calhoun, “the jury remedied the injustice by sending clear messages to Star Transport and other employers that they will be held accountable for their unlawful employment practices. Moreover, they signaled to Mr. Mohamed and Mr. Bulshale that religious freedom is a right for all Americans.”
“Employers don’t get to pick and choose which religions and which religious practices they will accommodate,” said EEOC attorney John Hendrickson. “If an employer can reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious practice without an undue hardship, then it must do so. That is a principle which has been memorialized in federal employment law for almost 50 years, and it is why EEOC is in this case.”
Author’s Note: I would be interested to view this story from Star’s perspective, a company that is now out of business and with no way to pay off the two offended Muslims. This is most likely a fatal blow to the financial situation of Star’s company owners and their families … and all because two truck drivers wouldn’t transport beer.