The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing a Virginia moving and storage business for refusing to hire a man who wears his hair in dreadlocks because of his religious beliefs.
Christopher Woodson -- who has 14 years of experience in the moving industry -- applied for a job at Lawrence Transportation Systems in May 2008. The company wouldn't hire him as a loader because Woodson refused to cut his hair, alleges a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Virginia. Woodson wears his hair in dreadlocks, because his Rastafarian religious beliefs encourage followers to refrain from cutting their hair.
Woodson offered to tie up his hair or wear a cap, according to the lawsuit. But a Lawrence Transportation hiring official rejected Woodson's offer, the lawsuit states. Woodson worked for Lawrence Transportation before he became a practicing Rastafarian in 2004.
The company defended its decision not to hire Woodson in a statement to the Roanoke Times.
"We are in the household goods moving business which requires our people to go into customers' homes and to have close personal contact with them. Our policy states that hair, facial hair, beards and general grooming must be neat, clean and trimmed. His hair was down to the middle of his back and he was asked to get it cut to about shirt collar length. He refused to comply with this neutral policy," the company said.
It added: "Lawrence understands and embraces its obligation to accommodate religious expression in the workplace, however, Mr. Woodson's request to be exempted from this important policy would have caused an undue hardship on the company."
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to make "reasonable accommodations" to religious beliefs.
"No person should ever be forced to choose between his religion and a job," employment commission attorney Lynette A. Barnes said in a statement. The EEOC filed suit against Lawrence after first attempting to reach a settlement.
The commission asks that Woodson receive back pay and compensation for losses and be offered a position as a loader at the company, according to the lawsuit.