A Muslim flight attendant who was suspended for refusing to serve alcohol has filed a lawsuit against her former employer, ExpressJet, alleging that they wrongly suspended her, the Detroit Free Press is reporting.
In a statement, the Michigan chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) announced Tuesday that they had filed the lawsuit last week on behalf of Charee Stanley. According to a September, 2015, CNN report, Stanley had been working for Atlanta-based ExpressJet for three years, and had been practicing Islam for one year, when she ran into trouble.
— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) September 16, 2015
Because Stanley believes that Islam forbids her not only from consuming alcohol, but from serving it to others, she tried to work out a deal that would allow her to swap duties with another flight attendant when it came time to serve alcohol to the passengers. Lena Masri, an attorney with Michigan chapter of CAIR, said at the time that the arrangement was made on the suggestion of her bosses at ExpressJet.
“It was at the direction of the airlines that she began coordinating with the other flight attendant on duty so that when a passenger requested alcohol, the other flight attendant would accommodate that request. We know that this arrangement has worked beautifully and without incident and that it hasn’t caused any undue burden on the airline. After all, it was the suggestion of the airline.”
This arrangement worked fine until another flight attendant complained. In addition to complaining about Stanley’s refusal to serve alcohol, the other flight attendant complained that Stanley wore a “headdress” (actually a hijab — the traditional Muslim head covering) and had a book with “foreign writings.”
For reasons that aren’t clear, ExpressJet sided with the complaining flight attendant, and sent Stanley a letter saying her religious accommodation had been revoked, and that she would have to serve alcohol or risk termination. She chose instead to stick to her beliefs, and was suspended without pay.
— muhammad fall (@muhammad_fall) August 9, 2016
Stanley filed a complaint last year with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which dismissed her complaint without ruling on whether or not the airline had violated federal law.
The EEOC, via the Civil Rights Act of 1964, requires that employers with more than 15 employees must provide “reasonable accommodation” when it comes to the religious practices of its employees. The problem is that the words “reasonable accommodation” are open to interpretation. Although the EEOC gives some examples (for example, allowing a woman to wear a skirt instead of pants if her sincerely-held religious beliefs forbid it), there is no inclusive list of all such accommodations, and in some cases it’s up to a judge or jury to determine whether an employer violated the law.
And in Stanley’s case, it looks like a judge or jury is going to have to do just that. Since Stanley didn’t get satisfaction from the EEOC, she’s taking her case to the federal courts.
CAIR’s Lena Masri believes the law is on her client’s side.
“Employers are obligated to provide reasonable accommodations of the religious beliefs of their employees. ExpressJet wrongfully revoked the religious accommodation it directed Ms. Stanley to follow, and retaliated against her for following it by wrongfully suspending her employment.”
ExpressJet, for their part, has declined to comment on the matter, saying that they can’t comment publicly on internal personnel issues, according to spokesman Jarek Beem.
“At ExpressJet, we embrace and respect the values of all of our team members. We are an equal opportunity employer with a long history of diversity in our workforce.”
Do you believe that ExpressJet was within its rights to fire a Muslim flight attendant for refusing to serve alcohol?
[Image via Shutterstock/withGod]