Bojangles’ Franchise Sued by EEOC For Religious Discrimination

Charlotte Restaurant Fired Muslim for Not Cutting His Beard, Which His Religion Forbids, Federal Agency Charges

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Bo-Cherry, Inc., a North Carolina corporation that operates several Bojangles' restaurants in the Charlotte metro area, violated federal law when it failed to accommodate an employee's religious beliefs and then fired him because of his religion, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.

According to the EEOC's complaint, Devin Charles has been a practicing Muslim for the past 14 years. As a male Muslim member of his sect of the Sunni branch of the Islamic faith, Charles is required to grow and maintain a beard and is not allowed to trim or cut his beard unless it exceeds the length of his fist when holding his beard in his closed hand under his chin, commonly referred to as "fist length." In accordance with his sincerely held religious beliefs, Charles has not trimmed or cut his beard unless it exceeded a fist length.

According to the EEOC's suit, Charles applied for a job with a Bojangles' restaurant in Charlotte, and on May 17, 2012, he was interviewed by a Bojangles' restaurant manager for a food prep position. After the interview, the manager informed Charles that he might need to cut his beard, to which Charles responded that he could not cut his beard for religious reasons, informing her that he was a Muslim. Charles was hired and worked at the restaurant on May 18 without incident.

However, on the following day, the manager instructed Charles that her supervisor, the district manager, had come to the restaurant, seen Charles' beard and instructed her to tell Charles that he needed to shave off his beard to continue working for Bojangles'. Charles 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, which the restaurant manager refused. The restaurant manager told Charles to leave the restaurant, and to not return to work until he shaved off his beard. Charles refused to shave his beard and was consequently fired, the EEOC said.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for the sincerely held religious beliefs of employees as long as doing so does not pose an undue hardship on the employer. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division (EEOC v. Bo-Cherry, Inc. d/b/a Bojangles, Civil Action No. 3:13-cv-00210) only after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages and reinstatement or front pay. The complaint also seeks 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," said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District Office. "This case demonstrates the EEOC's commitment to fighting religious discrimination in the workplace."

Tina Burnside, supervisory trial attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District Office, added, "This situation, like most similar ones, could have been solved by an honest effort at a fair and practical accommodation."

Eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring, especially class-based recruitment and hiring practices that discriminate against racial, ethnic and religious groups, older workers, women and people with disabilities, is one of six national priorities identified by the agency's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination. More information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.