EEOC sues Williamsburg IGA for discrimination after applicant told to cut dreadlocks

Federal Agency Charges that the Grocery Refused to Hire Worker Because of his Religious Beliefs

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Williamsburg Hometown IGA violated federal discrimination law by refusing to hire a job applicant because of his Spiritualist Rastafarian dreadlocks hairstyle, the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed on December 27, 2022.

The EEOC’s lawsuit (Case No. 6:22-cv-00235 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, London Division) alleges that Houchens Food Group, Inc. doing business as Hometown IGA, refused to hire Matthew Barnett because of his hairstyle. Barnett applied for a Hometown IGA Assistant Manager position, but when interviewed by Hometown IGA management staff, he was informed that he would need to cut his dreadlocks to work at the grocery. Barnett replied that his dreadlocks are worn for his religious beliefs and he would not cut them. The interview immediately concluded, and Hometown IGA refused to hire him.

Religious discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires employers to attempt to make a reasonable accommodation to sincere religious beliefs and practices. The EEOC filed suit after exhausting its conciliation efforts to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement.
“No employee or applicant should have to choose between their religion and their job,” said EEOC Indianapolis District Director Michelle Eisele.

EEOC Regional Attorney Ken Bird added, “Employers must consider reasonable accommodations, as necessary, which allow employees and applicants to hold jobs without sacrificing their religious beliefs.”

Statement of Claims

On or about September 11, 2021, Defendant Employer engaged in unlawful employment practices, in violation of Section 703(a) of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) by failing to reasonably accommodate Matthew Barnett’s religious beliefs and denying him employment due to religion:

a. Barnett is a Spiritualist Rastafarian and based upon his sincerely held religious beliefs, his hair is long and worn in dreadlocks in order to connect him to God;

b. Barnett interviewed with Defendant Employer on September 11, 2021 for an Assistant Manager position;

c. Barnett was told that he needed to cut his hair in order to be hired for the Assistant Manager position; and

d. Because Barnett refused to cut his hair, his interview ended and he was denied employment by Defendant Employer.

The effect of the practices complained of in paragraph 12 above has been to deprive Barnett of equal employment opportunities and to otherwise adversely affect his employment status because of his religion.

The unlawful employment practices complained of in paragraph 12 above were intentional.

The unlawful employment practices complained of in paragraph 12 above were done with malice or with reckless indifference to Barnett’s federally protected rights.

Via EEOC Press Release