Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Highest Court in MA backs Rasta, but the Struggle continues...

Below you will find the media's coverage of this monumental legal decision. At first, I was just ecstatic that my brethren was getting his day in court in his fight for equality, and that the media was covering the event. As I reflected on the strategic use of words by both the Jiffy Lube attorney and the media, and the tone evoked therefrom, I became a bit more unsettled.

Why is it that Brown, a man, deserves to be treated any less than a human being by being banished to an unheated basement with no customer contact? Would society tolerate such discrimination were it based on another religion like judaism, or a decision based on a person's physical appearance such as Down's syndrome?

Why does a Rasta's image present an "unprofessional" first impression?

Why is there mention of a "caveman look" in comparison?

I'm certain Jiffy Lube has a non-discrimination policy based on race, religion, sex, etc. But somehow, in this day and age, they find it acceptable, and even defendable, to exile a person to an unheated basement because of his religious preferences. I'll be following this legal decision closely to see how the actual lawsuit resolves itself. Needless to say, however, you won't be finding this Rasta in a Jiffy Lube establishment.

Story # 1: The Boston Herald

The Dread Lock decision: SJC backs Rastafari

By Laurel J. Sweet
Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Rastafarian can haul the owners of Jiffy Lube into court for religious discrimination now that the state’s top justices have ruled the oil-change chain got on a slippery slope when it ordered him to hide his beard and dreadlocks from public view.

Bobby Brown - a western Massachusetts man who is not Whitney Houston’s ex - claimed that when he refused to adopt F.L. Roberts and Co.’s grooming policy of “clean-shaven” faces and “neatly trimmed or arranged” hair two years after he went to work for the Jiffy Lube in Hadley, he was exiled to work in an unheated basement with no customer contact.

State Superior Court Judge Bertha D. Josephson ruled it was an undue hardship for Jiffy Lube to exempt Brown from the policy for his Jamaican-based religion. Brown appealed. The SJC found the company didn’t fully explore how it might otherwise accommodate the Rastafari doctrine of letting one’s hair grow with abandon.

“They’re not saying you can’t have a grooming policy, you can,” said Brown’s attorney Joel Feldman. “But if you’re going to claim it’s a real burden to deal with someone’s request, you have to prove it with facts. Jiffy Lube had not really engaged in a dialogue with Mr. Brown.”

Attorney Claire Thompson, representing F.L. Roberts, said she is confident jurors will side with the company’s expectation that employees like the aggrieved Brown make a “professional” first impression.

“Our policy was completely neutral. It had absolutely nothing to do with Mr. Brown’s religion. It’s essentially the Johnny Damon story,” she said, recalling how the former Sox slugger had to shed his trademark caveman look in 2006 to don Yankee pinstripes.

Here's the link to the story:

Story # 2: The Associated Press

Mass. high court: Rastafarian ex-Jiffy Lube worker kept from customers because of hair can sue
By DENISE LAVOIE Associated Press Writer

BOSTON (AP) _ A Rastafarian man who refused to shave off his beard or cut his hair to comply with a Jiffy Lube employee grooming policy can take his religious discrimination case to trial, Massachusetts' 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 a new grooming policy was put 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 Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, saying the company 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. He 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.

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."

The Rastafarian faith urges followers to let their hair grow unbridled. Many grow their hair into long, matted strands called dreadlocks to express a oneness with nature.

Here's that link:,0,7063375.story

Story #3: An unrelated story in the Jamaican Star: Employment Agency Refuses to Hire Rastafarian...

1 comment:

vchelle said...

Great article! As long as his teeth were in his head, his clothes were presentable, and he was courteous, I could care less that he had dreads. People, look at the eyes. They are the entrace to the soul!