ExpressJet Revokes Religious Accommodation for Muslim Flight Attendant

Jennifer Melendez and Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On September 1, 2015, a Muslim flight attendant for ExpressJet Airlines. Inc. (ExpressJet), Charee Stanley, filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against ExpressJet alleging religious discrimination after ExpressJet suspended her for refusing to serve alcoholic beverages to passengers. The EEOC is responsible for enforcing the federal laws that prohibit, among things, discrimination against a job applicant or an employee based on their religion.

During Stanley’s three-year employment with ExpressJet, she converted to Islam, but only learned last year that Islam discouraged both consuming and serving alcohol. Stanley requested that ExpressJet provide her with a religious accommodation to not serve alcohol to the passengers. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires an employer to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would be more than a minimal burden to the operations of the employer’s business. ExpressJet granted Stanley’s request, directing her to organize an arrangement with the other flight attendant on duty so that she did not need to serve alcohol.

However, in early August, one of Stanley’s coworkers filed an internal complaint, alleging that Stanley failed to do her job by not serving alcohol. The coworker also referred to Stanley’s hijab as a “headdress” and her Quran as a book with “foreign writings.” Lena Masri, Stanley’s attorney and an attorney for the Council on American–Islamic Relations’ Michigan Chapter, referred to the coworker’s complaint as “Islamaphobic.” Shortly after the complaint, ExpressJet revoked Stanely’s accommodation and placed her on twelve months of unpaid administrative leave. As a result, Stanley filed a charge with the EEOC.

Stanley commented, “I don’t think that I should have to choose between practicing my religion properly or earning a living… I shouldn’t have to choose between one or the other because both are important.” Stanley is requesting reinstatement while she waits for the EEOC’s decision. Masri stated, “[Stanley] was placed on unpaid leave for following the instructions that ExpressJet airlines gave her… we know that this [accommodation] has worked beautifully and without incident and that it hasn’t caused any undue burden on the airline.”

In response to comparisons to the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky state clerk who refused for religious reasons to issue any marriage licenses if she had to issue licenses to same-sex couples, Masri stated that Stanley is not a public official and that “serving alcohol is not a central duty of being a flight attendant.” The key difference between Stanley and Davis is that Stanley asked for and was granted a religious accommodation that would have ensured that all of the duties of her job were performed, whereas Davis intentionally refused to perform her duties in protest to being directed to marry same-sex couples.

If you feel that you have been discriminated against because of your religion or have been denied an accommodation for religious beliefs, please call The Harman Firm, LLP.