BOSTON – A Rastafarian man who refused to shave off his beard or cut his hair to comply with Jiffy Lube's employee grooming policy can take his religious discrimination case to trial, the state's highest court ruled Tuesday.
The Supreme Judicial Court reversed a decision by a Superior Court judge who had dismissed Bobby T. Brown's lawsuit against a Jiffy Lube franchisee before a trial.
Brown worked as a technician at a Hadley Jiffy Lube business owned by F.L. Roberts & Co. Inc.
In 2002, after Jiffy Lube put a new grooming policy in place requiring employees who worked with customers to be clean-shaven, Brown told management that his religion does not permit him to shave or cut his hair. Managers then said Brown could work only in lower bays where he did not have contact with customers.
Brown filed a discrimination lawsuit in state court in 2006. A Superior Court judge agreed with the company that it had the right to control its public image and found that it would be an undue hardship on the company to grant Brown an exemption from the grooming policy.
But the SJC disagreed, saying Jiffy Lube had not proven that no other accommodation was possible for Brown without imposing an undue hardship on the company.
"Here ... because the defendant did not discuss alternatives with the plaintiff, the defendant cannot show conclusively, on this record, that a total exemption from the grooming policy was the only possible accommodation," Justice Roderick Ireland wrote for the court.
Brown's attorney, Joel Feldman, praised the ruling.
"The court found that the company did not prove it would be an undue hardship for them to give him an exemption or to otherwise accommodate him," Feldman said.
Feldman said Brown no longer works for the company, but will take the case to trial because he believes the grooming policy discriminated against him based on his religion and that he is entitled to damages for being required to work in lower bays where he had no contact with customers.
But a lawyer for F.L. Roberts said that after the grooming policy was implemented, the company continued to employ Brown and gave him merit raises.
"The policy was not aimed at an individual's religion. What the policy said was if you want to continue to have customer contact, then you must be clean-shaven and have neatly trimmed hair," she said. "Otherwise we are still going to maintain your employment ... but you can't have customer contact."