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EEOC sues employer that fired Muslim women over skirts

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a religious discrimination lawsuit against an aviation services firm that fired several female Muslim employees after it allegedly refused to allow them to continue wearing long skirts at work.

The EEOC said in a statement Monday that the six women had worked as passenger service agents in Boston for Sumner, Washington-based Aviation Port Services L.L.C. and wore long skirts in accordance with their religious beliefs.

In late 2016, the company told them they would no longer be allowed to wear long skirts while working and instead would have to start wearing either company-provided pants or knee-length skirts, or their employment would be terminated

They were fired by Aviation Port Services in January 2017 for failing to comply with this uniform policy after they had requested a religious accommodation and objected to the mandate, according to the statement.

The company was charged with violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The EEOC is seeking back pay, compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief.

“Employers have an affirmative obligation under federal law to make reasonable modifications to company policies, such as dress codes, to accommodate their employees' religious practices,” said EEOC New York Regional Attorney Jeffrey Burstein in a statement. “Despite this obligation, Aviation Port Services simply refused to allow these women to continue working in attire consistent with their religious beliefs.”

A company spokesman could not be reached for comment.

In 2016, in a victory for employers, a federal judge refused a motion for a new trial in a religious discrimination case involving Muslim women who wore hijabs that was filed by the EEOC against an airport ground services firm that had won a jury verdict on the issue.