Ban of bearded pizza worker upheld But he intends to appeal ruling

November 14, 1992|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Staff Writer

It's good business, not illegal religious discrimination, for Domino's Pizza to refuse to hire a Catonsville man who wouldn't obey the company's grooming rules because he would be excommunicated from his religion if he shaved his beard, the Maryland Human Relations Commission has ruled.

Domino's policy against beards doesn't violate the state's laws against religious discrimination because Domino's surveys indicated customers would rather buy their pizza from clean-shaven workers, the commission ruled this week.

The commission overturned an administrative law judge's decision that had found Prabhjot S. Kohli, a Sikh, was a victim of discrimination and deserved a job offer at the pizza chain and more than $5,000 in back pay.

Although state law does require employers to make accommodation for their workers' religions, the law says companies don't have to bear "undue burdens."

The panel cited Domino's studies showing that more than 16 percent of the pizzeria chain's customers would "probably or definitely not buy Domino's pizza in the future" if they saw an employee with a beard, even if the beard was covered by a net.

And, since the average Domino's customer spends $300 a year on Domino's pizza, and the company has about 1,640 "average" customers at each of its 5,000 U.S. pizza outlets, one bearded employee could cost the company nearly $79,000 in lost sales.

But Mr. Kohli said yesterday that he is outraged by the decision and doesn't believe he would cost the pizzeria any sales. His beard is neatly wrapped and looks very trim, he says. The people used in Domino's surveys looked scruffy, he said.

"I wouldn't buy a pizza from them. . . . But I look very neat, and I think I look handsome" with the beard, the 53-year-old state highway engineer said.

Mr. Kohli plans to appeal the commission's ruling. He has already spent $14,000 in attorney's fees to fight the case.

"This is not only for me," he said. "I want to open the way for future generations, so that our children shouldn't feel the same type of discrimination."

Mr. Kohli said Sikhism forbids the shaving of body hair because of the belief that humans should not "interfere with creation."

David Smith, owner of the 25 Domino's franchises in Baltimore and Baltimore County, and the man who turned Mr. Kohli away from a job in late 1987, said he feels vindicated by the ruling and thinks it is important for his workers to look clean and neat.

"This [decision] lends credence to our research" that the way the workers look makes a difference in sales, he said.

Mike Jenkins, spokesman for the Detroit-based chain, said his company was happy with the decision upholding its grooming xTC policy. He said Domino's simply tries to please its customers.

He said that Domino's used to ban workers from wearing shorts because studies in the 1970s showed that customers didn't like workers in shorts. But recent studies show that customers don't mind shorts any more, so the company has relaxed the clothing rule, he said.

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