The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of the EEOC’s lawsuit challenging a prison’s policy that prohibited employees from wearing head coverings. Specifically, three Muslim female employees alleged that the prison violated Title VII’s prohibition on religious discrimination when it failed to accommodate their requests to wear khimars (Muslim head coverings) at work. Agreeing with the prison company, the Third Circuit held that an exception to the no headgear policy would cause an undue hardship due to safety concerns.
The prison had explained that its prohibition on head coverings addressed the following safety concerns: (1) contraband could be hidden inside of any headgear; (2) identification of an individual becomes more difficult when headgear is worn; and (3) the khimars could be used by the prisoners as a weapon against the employees who wore them. The Court agreed that the safety concerns posed legitimate foreseeable risks and stressed the importance of safety in a prison context.
This decision may have far-reaching implications for employers beyond just the prison context. It emphasizes that when employers evaluate accommodation requests legitimate safety concerns are paramount.