Muslim flight attendant suspended for not serving alcohol. Discrimination?

Charee Stanley and Kim Davis' cases put a spotlight on religious exemptions law. 

Business Wire
United Airlines flight attendants Hilary Dahl and Celeste Evans serve beverages while wearing vintage uniforms to celebrate the profession's 80th anniversary. A flight attendant for ExpessJet, which operates flights for United Express, claims that the airline discriminated against her by revoking a religious exemption which excused her from serving alcohol, which is prohibited by her religious beliefs.

A Muslim flight attendant has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), accusing her employer of discrimination after she was placed on leave for refusing to serve alcohol for religious reasons. 

Charee Stanley began working with Atlanta-based carrier ExpressJet three years ago and converted to Islam a year later. In early June, she approached a supervisor in June to explain that she felt her faith forbade her from serving alcohol. She was advised to work out an arrangement with co-workers, offering to do other tasks as they served drinks.

On August 2, however, a fellow employee protested  the exemption in a complaint that also noted Ms. Stanley had a book with “foreign writings” and wore a “headdress,” referring to Stanley’s hijab, her Muslim head covering – leading Stanley’s lawyer, Lena Masri, to call the complaint “Islamophobic.” Stanley’s accommodation was revoked, and she was placed on leave without pay, with the possibility of termination.

The blogosphere has been abuzz with comparisons between Stanley and Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk freed from jail on Tuesday after being imprisoned in a showdown over her refusal to sign marriage licenses after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. Davis claimed her Apostolic Christian beliefs prevented her from granting licenses. 

Ms. Masri rejects such comparisons, pointing out numerous differences: principally, that Stanley is not a government employee; did not deny service to any customers, given that other attendants agreed to serve drinks; and that she was placed on leave for doing what she was told.  

By providing Stanley with an exception, Masri argues, ExpressJet acknowledged that serving drinks was not an “essential duty” that only Stanley could fulfill. Davis’ office, on the other hand, was the only location in the county to apply for marriage licenses.

Both women have been subject to what law professor Eugene Volokh calls the “you don’t like the job requirements, so quit the job” argument. However, as he explains in depth for the Washington Post, that logic is “rejected” by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which requires that employers accommodate workers’ religious beliefs so long as doing so will not impose “undue hardship” on the company.

If Stanley’s suspension is found to be discriminatory, it will not be the first time an airline has faced controversy for anti-Muslim bias.

In May, Northwestern University chaplain Tahera Ahmad, who also wears a hijab, sparked a flurry of Tweets #unitedfortahera when a United Airlines flight attendant refused to offer Ahmad an unopened soda, saying she might “use it as a weapon.” However, the passenger seated next to Ahmad was given an unopened can of beer, leading her to accuse the airline of discrimination. United has since apologized and said that the worker “will no longer serve United customers.”

The EEOC now has six months to rule on Stanley’s case. If the decision is not in Stanley’s favor, her lawyer says they will consider a federal lawsuit.

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