Much Ado Over Serving Inflight Alcohol
What happens when a Muslim convert working as a flight attendant refuses to serve alcohol onboard the planes? One such flight attendant working at ExpressJet Airlines found herself suspended for 12 months, and may yet be given the boot after that. Now the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Michigan has stepped into the fray in support of the flight attendant, and the row has now escalated into a religious discrimination case.
No To Serving Alcohol
Charee Stanley joined ExpressJet Airlines as a flight attendant about 3 years ago. But last year, Charee Stanley converted to Islam. Recently Charee Stanley became aware that Sharia law forbids her not just from consuming alcohol, but it also forbids her from serving alcohol to passengers.
Last June Charee Stanley informed her supervisor about her situation. The supervisor then encouraged her to work out an arrangement with her non-Muslim colleagues to prevent disruption to inflight services. And that’s what Charee Stanley did.
Charee Stanley made arrangement with her non-Muslim colleagues so that when a passenger requests for alcohol to drink, then her non-Muslim colleagues will take care to serve alcohol to passengers. However something went wrong in August when another flight attendant filed an official complaint about Charee Stanley refusing to serve alcohol.
Responding to this complaint, EasyJet Airlines suspended Charee Stanley for 12 months, with no guarantee that she won’t be dismissed thereafter. Lena Masri, an attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) puts it this way: “We notified ExpressJet Airlines of its obligation under the law to reasonably accommodate Ms. Stanley’s religious beliefs. Instead, ExpressJet chose to violate Ms. Stanely’s constitutional rights, placed her on administrative leave for 12 months, after which her employment may be administratively terminated”.
To which EasyJet Airlines replied: “At ExpressJet, we embrace and respect the values of all of our team members. As Ms. Stanley is an employee, we are not able to comment on her personnel matters”.
The Discrimination Complaint
Charee Stanley, in a bid to get back her job without the need to serve alcohol, has now filed a complaint about being discriminated against in the workplace.
The complaint was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Lena Masri said: “What this case comes down to is no one should have to choose between their career and religion and it’s incumbent upon employers to provide a safe environment where employees can feel they can practice their religion freely”.
Lena Masri said: “It was at the direction of the airlines that she began coordinating with the other flight attendant on duty so that when a passenger requested alcohol, the other flight attendant would accommodate that request. We know that this arrangement has worked beautifully and without incident and that it hasn’t caused any undue burden on the airline. After all, it was the suggestion of the airline”.
On August 25, the EasyJet Airlines sent a letter to Charee Stanley informing her that it was revoking its religious accommodation to exclude her from service of alcohol and placing her on administrative leave.
Lena Masri said: “They placed her on unpaid leave and they advised her that her employment may be terminated after 12 months. We are requesting that her employment be reinstated and the accommodation of her religious beliefs be reinstated as well”.
About Religious Discrimination & Reasonable Accommodation
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines religious discrimination and reasonable accommodation quite simply.
The law requires an employer or other covered entity to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden on the operations of the employer’s business. This means an employer may be required to make reasonable adjustments to the work environment that will allow an employee to practice his or her religion.
Examples of some common religious accommodations include flexible scheduling, voluntary shift substitutions or swaps, job reassignments, and modifications to workplace policies or practices.
Think About It
EasyJet Airlines operates regional flights where there are usually 2 flight attendants. If one of them cannot serve alcohol, would that constitute more than a minimal burden on the operations of EasyJet Airlines? That remains to be seen. But then again, couldn’t EasyJet Airlines reassign Charee Stanley to some other job that don’t require serving alcohol to passengers?