UPS sued for demanding Muslim shave beard

Sweden's Equality Ombudsman (Diskrimineringsombudsmannen, DO) has filed a lawsuit against parcel delivery company United Parcel Service (UPS) after the company dismissed a Muslim driver who refused to shave his beard.

UPS sued for demanding Muslim shave beard

In a lawsuit filed with Sweden’s Labour Court (Arbetsdomstolen) on Monday, the ombudsman argued that the company should pay the man, a resident of Spånga northest of Stockholm, 150,000 kronor ($23,000) in compensation plus 42,000 kronor in lost income, as well as interest on both amounts.

“The rule has no legitimate purpose and is not appropriate and necessary,” wrote Anders Wilhelmsson, the ombudsman office lawyer representing the man, in the filing.

The man was employed in June 2010 by the Uniflex staffing company, which intended to subcontract him to UPS as a driver. The contract was to last through the summer until August 31st, but the stated aim was a permanent position with UPS if all went well, according to DO.

During the recruitment process, the man was informed that UPS had a uniform policy under which drivers were not allowed to have beards. During the recruitment process, no one asked if he was prepared to shave his beard.

In addition, his beard growth was very minimal. As such, he believed his beard would not be a problem.

The man began his employment at UPS on June 7th, 2010. The first week was devoted to training. During that time, no one remarked about his beard, according to the lawsuit.

However, the following Monday just before his first run, his immediate supervisor told him he had to shave the beard the next day.

Since there were other colleagues in the vicinity, the man waited until the afternoon to speak to his supervisor again, but was nevertheless unable to make contact with his boss until the following morning.

The man told his supervisor that he was a Muslim and it was against his religious convictions to shave his beard.

The supervisor said it sounded strange to him because there were other Muslims at UPS who had shaved their beards, reiterating the policy was in place so that drivers would look clean and neat and that a beard was unacceptable.

According to the lawsuit, the man explained that there are different interpretations of Islam. He asked if it was possible to grant him an exemption since he had religious reasons and it was not a large beard.

The supervisor said he would discuss the issue with human resources and get back to him. At the end of the workday, the man was told by another manager that UPS stood by its policy and the company could not make any exceptions.

The man emphasised that it was a difficult decision for him because he wanted to remain at UPS, but that he had thought through the whole situation carefully and stood behind his stance.

The manager then informed the man that his contract would be terminated and asked him to return his uniform. Since the man’s position at Uniflex was dependent on the contract, he also lost his job at Uniflex the following day.

The ombudsman argued in its lawsuit that the company’s ban on beards was difficult to fulfill as it touched on decisions based on one’s religion or beliefs.

As such, the man was disadvantaged by the application of an ostensibly neutral rule that could specifically discriminate against people with religious beliefs.

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