Rastafarian files beard bias suit against UPS

Chicago, USA - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has sued United Parcel Service Inc. on behalf of a Rastafarian, claiming UPS discriminated against his religion by refusing him a job because of his beard.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in the New Jersey district court in Newark, claims that Ronnis Mason was refused a driving job in November 2004 at the company's Secaucus, New Jersey facility because his beard did not meet appearance guidelines. The suit says he was offered a lower paying job inside the facility where he would not have contact with customers.

EEOC lawyer Michael Ranis said Mason sought an accommodation, or exemption, for his religious beliefs, "but UPS did not grant him one."

The Rasta or Rastafari movement is closely associated with Jamaica, where there are roughly 1 million Rastafarians.

The EEOC claims in the suit that UPS breached the law by applying a policy prohibiting beards across the board that failed to "accommodate Mason's practice of his religion."

UPS, the world's largest package delivery company, denied discriminating against Mason.

"These allegations are totally unfounded and untrue," said UPS spokesman Norman Black.

Black said that Mason applied for a job as a temporary driver and left during the application process after applicants were told of appearance guidelines.

"We promote religious tolerance, all we insist on is that applicants seek an accommodation for grooming guidelines," he said.

"At no time did Mr. Mason seek an accommodation and no one at UPS was aware that he was a Rastafarian," Black said.

Black said the company has Rastafarians on the payroll, but said he did not know how many.

UPS shares ended down 8 cents on Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange at $79.52.

The company, based in Atlanta, Georgia, employs about 400,000 people worldwide. Its main competition is FedEx Corp., based in Memphis, Tennessee.