EEOC v. Kelly Services (8th Cir. 2010): Reasonable Accommodation for Headscarf

On appeal from the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, the Court upheld the lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant. The EEOC brought a case under Title VII on behalf of Asthma Suliman, a Muslim employee of Kelly Services (a temporary employment agency), alleging religious discrimination. Suliman claimed that the company required her to remove her headscarf (khimār) to work at Nahan (one of Kelly’s work placement facilities) because of the risk that loose clothing posed to the wearer due to the heavy machinery. The defendant company argued that, even if the Court determined that the plaintiff had made out a prima facie case of discrimination, the company had “a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action.” An earlier precedent, Ollis v. Hearthstone Homes, Inc., recognized the operation of heavy machinery as a legitimate basis for requiring headscarf-removal and as a proper defense to a claim of discrimination in such instances. The Court affirmed the lower court’s decision, concluding that the EEOC could not prove that the employee was discriminated against as a direct result of her religious beliefs, and that the defendant had demonstrated a safety-related reason for the lack of accommodation.

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