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Employment Law Blog

Friday, September 23, 2005

Tattoos and Religion

Do you think it is okay for an employer to refuse to hire applicants with visible tattoos because the employer wants to promote a wholesome image?  Think again . . . .

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Inc., whose former CFO stated that the restaurant chain seeks out ?that all-American kid from the suburbs? for its server positions, has (maybe I?d better make that ?had?) a dress code policy for servers that prohibited visible tattoos.  Understand?the policy did not prohibit having tattoos, but did require that the server conceal them with clothing while at work.

Edward Rangel, a server in a Bellevue, Washington Red Robin, requested an exception to the dress code.  According to Mr. Rangel, he is a follower of the Kemetic Orthodoxy religion, a modern practice of ancient Egyptian traditions, founded in the late 1980s.  Mr. Rangel asserted that he believes it would be a sin for him to conceal the religious inscriptions that encircle his wrist (in the form of tattoos.)  Red Robin declined to allow an exception to its dress code, and terminated Mr. Rangel?s employment when he refused to wear clothing that would conceal his tattoos.

The EEOC filed suit against Red Robin for religious discrimination.  The Court held that Red Robin had to support its defense that the dress code exception would create an undue hardship on its business with more than hypothetical hardships based on unproven assumptions.  In other words, the Court rejected Red Robin?s ?wholesome image? argument without concrete evidence that the dress code exception would hurt its business.  After that ruling,  Red Robin agreed to settle the lawsuit by paying Mr. Rangel $150,000 and changing its policies to allow for accommodation of religion.

So if you are served by someone with tattoos, do not assign responsibility (either blame or credit?depending on your perspective) to the employer.  Instead, you can thank Mr. Rangel, the EEOC and a federal district judge in the Western District of Washington.

I wonder when the First Church of the Harley-Davidson will be founded . . . .

Posted by Patrick Della Valle on 09/23 at 05:18 PM