A federal lawsuit accuses Publix of illegally refusing to accommodate a new employee’s devout Rastafarian beliefs by demanding he cut his dreadlocks to shoulder length.
When Guy Usher of Nashville refused to chop off his dreads, says the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for Tennessee’s Middle District, Publix management wouldn’t allow him to wear a hat.
Usher had to quit before his first day at work.
The EEOC claims Florida-based Publix violated part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by not allowing Usher to wear a hat or making “a reasonable accommodation.”
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Publix’s corporate response to the lawsuit, as emailed to the Miami Herald:
“At Publix, we value and appreciate the diversity of all of our associates. We work to provide environments where known religious beliefs and practices of our associates and applicants are reasonably accommodated ... It would be inappropriate for us to comment specifically on this case, as it is pending litigation. However, please know that we are dedicated to the employment security of our associates and that we regularly provide accommodations to associates due to their religious beliefs, as required by law.”
As Jahworks.org explains facets of Rastafarian life, the dreadlocks hairstyle originated in Eastern Africa. But, in this hemisphere, “the early dreadlocks were the first protestors of Jamaica by claiming their identity, and expressing a realized concept of the spiritual connotations that came with growing the hair unadulterated without any chemicals or sharp objects. Upon accepting the Nazerite Vow, one becomes a Nazarene and is separated from the ‘world’ but lives closer to God. The vow consists of not cutting the hair and other strict dietary laws to maintain a healthful state of mind and body. For the Rastas to be black, dreaded and bearded was a more realistic image of Yeshua the Christ.”
The suit claims Usher, 28, observes Rasta rules by not consuming pork or alcohol, engaging in regular prayer and maintaining his dreads. While shopping at a Nashville Publix on Jan. 8, the suit claims, he was recruited to apply for a job there.
When he met with assistant store manager Kayla McKee on Jan. 9, she asked him to cut his dreads. She was considering him for either a cashier or a produce clerk position.
Publix’s Personal Appearance Standards website page states male hair must “be worn conservatively styled, clean and neat — no fad cuts or fad colorings ... not hang below the eyebrows or in the face ... not hang or curl over the collar.”
According to the suit, Usher told McKee he couldn’t cut his hair, but asked if he could wear his dreads under a hat. McKee said she’d check and get back to him.
But when she called the next day to offer him one of the two positions, she said he would have to cut his hair. Usher said no to the job, then called back later that day and accepted. But he also brought up equal opportunity employment laws and asked again if he’d have to cut his hair.
McKee, the suit says, again said yes.
Usher told Publix on Jan. 11 he’d rather work as a cashier than a produce clerk. Several days later, Usher told Customer Service Manager Cassandra Johnson (McKee wasn’t available) he couldn’t cut his hair.
“Management officials have a responsibility to consider all reasonable requests to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs and practices,” Katharine W. Kores, district director of EEOC’s Memphis District Office, said in a statement.