The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit Friday in U.S. District Court in Augusta for a former Federal Express employee fired after he refused on religious grounds to shave off his beard.
The Atlanta District Office of the commission filed the lawsuit on behalf of Khaleed Abdul-Azeez against Federal Express, alleging the Memphis-based corporation violated Mr. Abdul-Azeez's civil rights.
The lawsuit alleges that the company discriminated against Mr. Abdul-Azeez on the basis of religion and terminated him in retaliation for exercising his civil rights.
Mr. Abdul-Azeez was hired as a delivery driver in November 1998 at the Augusta Federal Express office. Mr. Abdul-Azeez, according to the lawsuit, asked Federal Express to exempt him from the company's nationwide policy that prohibits beards for employees whose jobs bring them into contact with customers.
Mr. Abdul-Azeez, the lawsuit contends, practices Islam, a religion that requires men to wear beards. While Federal Express' no-beard policy has an exception for people who need to wear beards for medical reasons, there is no exception for religious reasons, and the company refused to accommodate Mr. Abdul-Azeez, according to the lawsuit.
About 10 days after being hired, he was placed on unpaid leave and was told to find a job in a noncustomer contact position, said Steve Tapper, a commission attorney in Atlanta. After Mr. Abdul-Azeez failed to find a satisfactory position, he was fired March 1, 1999.
A lawsuit represents only one side of a controversy. Mr. Tapper said Federal Express has 30 days to file a response.
The lawsuit seeks back pay for Mr. Abdul-Azeez, compensatory and punitive damages, and a court order to prohibit Federal Express from discriminating against any employee on the basis of religious discrimination.
Associated Press reports were used in this article.