For Sikh, Domino's doesn't deliver Despite orders to give man job, firm stands

by clean-shaven policy

April 19, 1996|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Prabhjot S. Kohli thought he would get the job at Domino's Pizza he has wanted for more than eight years -- a job that Maryland courts ruled was rightfully his.

But despite Maryland Human Relations Commission and Court of Special Appeals decisions in his favor in a long-running religious discrimination case, Mr. Kohli was turned away by Domino's again yesterday.

The legal battle centers on Mr. Kohli's beard. The 58-year-old Catonsville resident, who emigrated from India in 1985, is a Sikh whose religion requires followers not to cut their body hair because it is a gift from God.

But Domino's Pizza says no beards.

"Our policy is that you must be clean-shaven or provide us with proof of a medical condition that prohibits you from shaving," Domino's Pizza spokesman Tim McIntyre said yesterday from the pizza company's headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The pizza company denied Mr. Kohli a job because of his beard in 1987, and since then, he and Domino's have engaged in a see-saw legal dispute through the Commission on Human Relations, the Baltimore County Circuit Court and the Court of Special Appeals.

In January, the case was heard for a second time by the commission's appeal board, which upheld an administrative law judge's 1992 finding that Domino's was in violation of Maryland law and must offer him the next available manager-in-training position and give him $5,755.09 in back pay.

Domino's was denied a stay of the order recently by county Circuit Judge Barbara Kerr Howe, setting the stage for Mr. Kohli's visit yesterday to the company's regional headquarters in Linthicum. He was dressed in a gray suit and maroon turban, with the beard -- which reaches to his stomach -- neatly tucked under so that it appeared to end at his jaw-line. He carried documents dating to his first attempt at getting a job, including his original application letter quoting a Domino's newspaper ad: "The sky's the limit."

But Colleen Andrew, a company official, offered neither a job nor back pay.

"I've been instructed to give you these two names," she said -- offering the names of Domino attorneys. And she asked Mr. Kohli -- along with his lawyer, a commission lawyer and reporters -- to leave the premises.

"I think they are denying me again the same opportunity," Mr. Kohli said.

Mr. McIntyre, the company spokesman, said Domino's is pursuing another appeal, and until the appeals process is over "we don't feel we are obligated" to hire him. "There are no rules or regulations anywhere in Maryland that prohibit the company's no-beard policy."

Mr. Kohli, who came to the United States from New Delhi with his wife, has been an engineer for the State Highway Administration since 1986. He applied to Domino's in December 1987 after hearing of a $75,000-a-year management training position supervising Baltimore County franchises.

With sales management experience in India, he considered himself qualified, but the company denied his application because he refused to shave his beard, the commission found.

Jonathan P. Sills, the commission's assistant general counsel who accompanied Mr. Kohli yesterday, said he is considering filing a contempt motion against the pizza chain.

"They have to comply," he said. "There's no ifs, ands or buts about it."

He also said that a commission investigator went to the Domino's office this week posing as a job-seeker, and -- unlike Mr. Kohli -- was allowed to fill out an application.

Pub Date: 4/19/96

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