The role corporations play in regards to the expression of deeply held religious convictions is up in the air once again. But this time it is not Chick-Fil-A that is at the center of the controversy.
The fast food giant, Burger King, is facing a lawsuit by a Texas Teenager based on religious discrimination. 17-year-old Pentecostal Christian Ashanti McShan claims she was originally hired by Burger King in Grand Prarie with the understanding that her faith would not allow her to wear the standard uniform pants required by the company — because of her deeply held religious conviction that women should not wear men’s clothing.
However, when she showed up to orientation wearing a skirt, McShan was told that she had to leave the store in spite of the religious issue that was at hand.
McShan’s attorney is arguing that the way she was treated is a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans religious discrimination in the workplace. The lawsuit specifically reads, “The result of the foregoing practices has been to deprive Ashanti McShan of equal employment opportunities because of her religious beliefs and observances as a Christian Pentecostal.”
Meaghan Shepherd, who serves as a trial attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is representing McShan. Shepherd elaborates in McShan’s defense, “I’ve seen cases where an employer has denied a ‘religious accommodation’ and it’s something where you could see how it could cause a problem. The legal standard is ‘undue hardship,’ and in this instance it was a very simple request -- to be able to wear a long black skirt and not black pants- and it was initially granted.”
Shepherd further explains McShan was responsible enough to first try and get in touch with someone higher in the franchise prior to filing the lawsuit. However, she did not receive a response. Although McShan was asked to leave the store before she even worked a shift, the lawsuit is asking for “appropriate back pay with prejudgment interest.”
McShan is part of a Pentecostal Christian sect that believes firmly in a strict and literal interpretation of Deuteronomy 22:5 which states, “the woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.”
EEOC regional director Robert A. Canino sums up the matter quite poignantly, “We haven’t come far enough in our respect of religious liberties at the workplace if we have employers saying that uniform policies trump a religious observance without articulation of any hardship posed by letting an employee ‘hold the pickles’ and ‘hold the lettuce’ while wearing a skirt.”