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Taco Bell settles religious bias suit after male employee refuses to cut hair


RALEIGH, N.C.—A Taco Bell franchise has agreed to pay $27,000 to settle a religious discrimination suit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over the issue of a Nazirite employee who had refused to cut his hair.

The EEOC said Friday that Christopher Abbey, an employee of Fayetteville, N.C.-based Family Foods Inc., which operates a chain of Taco Bell restaurants in eastern North Carolina, is a practicing Nazirite who has not cut his hair since he was 15 years old.

“Nazirites base their religious beliefs on references in the Old Testament to individuals who took a special vow of abstinence,” says the EEOC lawsuit, which was filed in federal district court in Raleigh, N.C., in July 2011.

“In accordance with its vow, Nazirites do not cut their hair, believing that long hair is a way of showing their devotion to God.”

According to the lawsuit, Mr. Abbey, who had worked for a restaurant owned by Family Foods in Fayetteville since 2004, was told sometime in April 2010 to cut his hair to comply with the company's grooming policy. He was discharged when he refused to do so.

The lawsuit charged the firm with violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte, N.C., district, said in a statement, “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.”

A company spokesman could not be reached for comment.