A Federal court in Florida has ruled that a Subway restaurant did not violate Title VII by firing an employee because she wore a nose ring, rejecting a claim by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for injunctive relief and punitive damages. Click here to read the court's decision in EEOC v. Papin Enters. Inc.
Subway has a policy prohibiting employees from wearing facial jewelry, but this particular employee refused to remove her nose ring on the grounds that wearing it was part of her Nuwaubian religion. In April this year, a jury found that Subway did not have to accommodate the employee's nose ring, as she did not have a sincerely held religious belief requiring her to wear it. Last week, the court declined the EEOC's request for injunctive relief and punitive damages (notwithstanding the jury verdict) as there was no basis for such relief absent any discrimination.
The Papin case demonstrates an important legal principle: although employers are required to reasonably accommodate employees' religious practices (which may include allowing employees to deviate from a dress code), employers are only required to accommodate sincerely held religious beliefs. (So much for my idea of converting to Pastafarianism so I could claim a religious right to wear jeans on Friday). For more information on what constitutes a "religion" for Title VII purposes, check out these Frequently Asked Questions on Religious Discrimination from the EEOC.