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Muslim flight attendant sues airline over drink service

The Islamic faith forbids its followers from consuming or serving alcohol. According to the tenets of their faith, Muslims also cannot profit from or promote alcohol. One would see how that could be a problem for a flight attendant, whom people count on to serve them a cocktail or two to relieve in-flight jitters and just relax.

However, a flight attendant who has worked for ExpressJet Airlines since 2013 was able to work out an arrangement with her supervisor when she converted to Islam. If a passenger wanted a drink, she would ask another flight attendant to assist that passenger.

That "reasonable accommodation" by her employer to her faith was working fine, according to the head of the group that's filed an employment discrimination lawsuit on behalf of the former Michigan resident. However, when she was paired with a new flight attendant, that employee complained about the arrangement. The airline placed the Muslim flight attendant on a year-long administrative leave in August 2015.

The Michigan chapter of a group called the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on her behalf last September. CAIR-MI followed it up last month with a federal lawsuit, claiming that ExpressJet's actions are a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The legal director of CAIR-MI says that the airline "wrongfully revoked the religious accommodation it directed [the flight attendant] to follow, and retaliated against her for following it by wrongfully suspending her employment."

It was not reported whether the woman returned to work when her year-long suspension expired last month and, if so, whether she was provided the accommodation that had previously been made.

Discrimination lawsuits can be costly financially to a business. They can also be damaging to their reputation. It's important for businesses to follow the advice of their attorneys before taking action against any employee that could be considered discrimination based on protected characteristics like race, religion or gender. If they find themselves facing a discrimination suit, experienced legal guidance is essential.

Source: Detroit Metro Times, "Muslim flight attendant sues airline for forcing her to serve booze," Serena Maria Daniels, Aug. 16, 2016

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