Feb. 7, 2006 — The federal government's decision to fire a V.I. man for wearing dreadlocks was upheld in a recent decision released by the U.S. District Court on St. Croix.
In the case, Albion Francis — "an African-American who wears his hair in a style known as dreadlocks," according to Judge Finch's decision — lost his attempt to get his job back as an airport screener.
The judge did not rule on whether an employer had a right to fire someone whose hair did not meet the employer's grooming standards; what he did was to rule that the worker, in this case, had failed to follow the appropriate channel in filing his complaint.
Francis had brought his firing to the court arguing it was a violation of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. His employer, the Department of Homeland Security, argued successfully that if one is to file a complaint about being fired for religious reasons, one had to use another federal statute, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
According to the decision, Francis' failure to sue under Title VII led to losing his case and not getting his job back. In the words of the court, there was a "failure to exhaust Title VII's administrative remedies."
The Department of Homeland Security hired Francis in October 2002 to work as a screening officer at Henry Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix. When his supervisors noticed his hair they said he had to comply with the agency's grooming rules. Unwilling to comply, Francis resigned and on March 11, 2003, filed his case in court.
Francis argued at the time that Homeland Security's policy against dreadlocks "substantially burdens Plaintiff's sincerely held religious beliefs and does not further a compelling government interest."
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