Federal regulators have accused the owner of a chain of Taco Bell restaurants in eastern North Carolina of failing to accommodate, and then firing, an employee because of his religion.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the lawsuit against Family Foods Inc. today.
According to the lawsuit, sometime in April 2010 Family Foods told an employee in one of its Fayetteville restaurants that he had to cut his hair to comply with the company's grooming policy.
The employee, Christopher Abbey, is a practicing Nazarite who, in accordance with his religious beliefs, has not cut his hair since he was 15. He was 25 at the time that he was ordered to cut his hair and had worked at the Taco Bell restaurant in Fayetteville since 2004.
Abbey explained why he could not cut his hair but was told he could no longer continue to work at the restaurant if he didn't, according to the EEOC's lawsuit.
The EEOC accuses Family Foods of violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires employers to attempt to make reasonable accommodations to employees religious beliefs as long as those beliefs don't place an undue hardship on the employer.
The EEOC is seeking reinstatement, back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for Abbey.
The lawsuit was filed after the EEOC failed to reach a settlement with Family Foods, the commission said in a release.