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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

EEOC Can Seek Info On UPS’ Ban on Beards

(CN) - The 2nd Circuit reversed a lower court ruling that said United Parcel Service need not comply with a subpoena for companywide information on religious exemptions to its appearance guidelines after it denied driver jobs to two Muslims who refused to shave their beards.

The appellate court said the district court judge applied a standard that is too restrictive in refusing to enforce a subpoena by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The EEOC had requested the information on Bilal Abdullah, a Muslim who sought a driver job in Rochester, N.Y., in 2005, and Muhammed Farhan, a Muslim in Dallas who applied for a promotion from package handler to driver in 2007. Both were denied the positions because they would not shave their beards for religious reasons.

In 1999, UPS established a policy to allow employees to seek a religious exemption to the its Uniform and Personal Appearance Guidelines. But Abdullah and Farhan were not informed of the policy, the EEOC argued.

In 2007 the EEOC filed a petition in Federal Court in Manhattan to enforce a subpoena seeking "information about how religious exemptions ... are handled nationwide." The court denied the petition, saying that the subpoena was "overly broad and sought national information not relevant to the individual charges being investigated."

But the 2nd Circuit disagreed, finding that the district court "applied too restrictive a standard of relevance."

UPS claimed the information was not available in aggregate. It also claimed the request was moot because Abdullah had been let go for allegedly using a fake Social Security number and Farhan was been granted a religious exemption.

The three-judge panel found this argument "without merit."

"UPS argues that the two charges fail to justify nationwide discovery as Abdullah was not hired because he gave an incorrect Social Security number and Farhan actually was accommodated," the court said. "However, UPS's arguments as to the merits do not prevent the EEOC from investigating these charges. Indeed, at the investigatory stage, the EEOC is not required to show that there is probable cause to believe that discrimination occurred or to produce evidence to establish a prima facie case of discrimination."

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