An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) discrimination complaint was filed last week on behalf of an American Muslim who was placed on unpaid leave after having a religious accommodation revoked. Previously she had been excused from serving alcohol as a flight attendant on ExpressJet Airlines based upon her sincerely held religious beliefs. With the national hoopla surrounding Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk Kim Davis refusing to issue marriage licenses for same sex couples based upon her beliefs as a Christian, some have made false comparisons with this and the ExpressJet issue.
Charee Stanley began working for ExpressJet prior to converting to Islam. After becoming Muslim, she later accepted the majority opinion within Islamic teachings that Muslims are prohibited from serving alcoholic beverages. Upon bringing her sincerely held beliefs to the attention of ExpressJet, airline reportedly stated that her co-flight attendants could serve alcoholic beverages upon request to both accommodate passengers and Stanley given their Detroit hub flights always have two flight attendants. Stanley welcomed and followed these directions by the airline.
This accommodation reportedly took place without any issues for approximately two months until a co-worker who returned from maternity leave launched a complaint containing Islamophobic overtones about Stanley not serving alcohol as well as referring to Stanley wearing a head scarf and possessing a book with “foreign writings.” The accommodation which the airline gave to Stanley was subsequently revoked before she was placed on unpaid leave which could lead to her eventual termination.
Stanley accepted the religious accommodation to not serve alcohol which also had a provision for passengers to still procure alcoholic beverages. Davis, in contrast, invoked her Christian beliefs to deny marriage licenses, which is an essential part of her job as an elected county clerk. Thus the issue of Davis using her positional power to deny marriage licenses at the expense of others and Stanley who did not oppose passengers’ choices to consume alcohol are quite different.
Ultimately the EEOC will investigate Stanley’s case and make a determination. What we do know is that our courts uphold the general principle of reasonable religious accommodations for workers that do not impede the essential functions of their jobs. Fellow co-workers serving alcohol instead of Stanley clearly did not impede in her primary functioning as a flight attendant. The bottom line is no American should have a religious accommodation revoked by their employer due to a complaint by a co-worker with apparently bigoted views.
Dawud Walid is executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Michigan.