Sikh wins appeal of bias complaint against Domino's

March 04, 1995|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Sun Staff Writer

A Catonsville Sikh praised the American justice system yesterday upon learning he had won an appeal in his battle alleging religious discrimination by Domino's Pizza, which refused to hire him seven years ago because of his beard.

"I'm very happy," said Prabhjot S. Kohli, whose religion forbids shaving. "I'm convinced about the legal system, of which I had the highest confidence."

Domino's argued that accommodating Mr. Kohli's religion would cause it undue economic hardship, citing its clean-shaven policy for employees and offering studies that some potential customers would not buy pizza from a bearded employee.

In a setback to Domino's, the state Court of Special Appeals ruled in a 31-page opinion filed Thursday that the Maryland Human Relations Commission erred in dismissing Mr. Kohli's complaint -- as did a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge who upheld the dismissal.

The appeals court sent the case back to the Human Relations Commission, where it began -- and where Mr. Kohli now appears likely to prevail.

Although he no longer wants to work for Domino's, Mr. Kohli, a 56-year-old engineer with the State Highway Administration, said has used more than $14,000 of his family's savings to pursue the case since he was told to shave if he wanted the job in December 1987.

Mr. Kohli said Sikhism requires that hair remain uncut in deference to the natural order of God and that violating the tenet could result in excommunication.

"My mission was to see that no person in the future would suffer for these idiosyncrasies," said Mr. Kohli, general secretary of the Sikh Association of Baltimore Inc. from 1992 to 1994. He said he rejected settlement offers because "this is a question of principle."

The case stirred interest among the nation's Indian community and newspapers in his native New Delhi, Mr. Kohli said, but even some Sikhs advised him to stop fighting. His potential award would be only the few thousand dollars difference between the income from his current job and the Domino's management position he had sought.

The 25-store Baltimore-Baltimore County franchise to which Mr. Kohli applied has been dissolved, and its operations assumed by Domino's parent DPI Corp. in Michigan.

Kathleen Pontone, a Baltimore lawyer representing DPI, said the appellate decision was being reviewed and the company had no immediate comment.

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