Published On: Mon, Apr 30th, 2012

Taco Bell Operator Pays $27,000 to Resolve EEOC Religious Discrimination Lawsuit

Family Foods, Inc., a North Carolina corporation that operates a chain  of Taco Bell restaurants in eastern North Carolina, will pay $27,000 and  furnish other relief to resolve a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the  U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced Friday.

According to the lawsuit, Christopher Abbey is a practicing Nazirite who, in  accordance with his religious beliefs, has not cut his hair since he was 15  years old. Abbey worked at a Taco Bell  restaurant owned by Family Foods in Fayetteville,  N.C., since 2004. Sometime in April 2010, the company informed  Abbey that he would have to cut his hair in order to comply with its grooming  policy. When Abbey explained that he could not cut his hair because of his religion, the company told Abbey that  unless he cut his hair, he could no longer continue to work at its Taco Bell  restaurant.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil  Rights Act of 1964, which requires employers to attempt to make  reasonable accommodations to the sincerely held religious beliefs of employees  as long as this poses no undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit in July 2011 in U.S. District Court, Eastern  District of North Carolina after first  attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

In addition to monetary damages, the two-year consent decree resolving the suit requires Family Foods, Inc. to adopt a formal religious accommodation policy and conduct  annual training on Title VII and its prohibition against religious  discrimination and retaliation in the workplace. Family Foods, Inc. will also post a copy of  its anti-discrimination policy at all of its facilities.

“No person should be forced to choose between his religion and his job when the company  can provide an accommodation without suffering an undue hardship,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District, which includes the Raleigh Area Office, where the original charge of discrimination was filed. “We are  pleased that, in resolving this case, Family Foods is taking action to ensure  that it fulfills its obligations toward its employees under federal law.”

Tina Burnside, supervisory trial attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District, added, “The EEOC will continue to litigate cases where employers fail to meet their obligations not to discriminate.”

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. More information about the EEOC is available on its website at

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