After 10 years, court rules on no-beard policy Lack of authority over Domino's noted

October 10, 1997|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Prabhjot S. Kohli fled his native India where Sikhs like himself were being hounded and worse, and came to the United States. He tried for a job as a management trainee at a pizza parlor while he waited for his engineering credentials to come through.

But Domino's Pizza Inc. told him he'd have to shave -- something his religion forbids -- because it has a no-beard policy. The man who had fled religious persecution complained to the Maryland Human Relations Commission and waited for U.S. justice.

That was 10 years ago and he is still waiting.

Yesterday, the state's highest court ruled that a Baltimore County Circuit Court lacked the authority to force Domino's to change its policy.

The one bright spot for Kohli might be that the court reversed the case on procedural grounds that lawyers say could lead to changes in the law on how the Maryland Human Relations Commission operates.

The Court of Appeals ordered the lower court to hear one limited aspect of the case -- Domino's appeal of the commission decision against the pizza giant. The actual discrimination allegations won't be heard again.

"We are talking 10 years to remedy a discrimination complaint?" said Stephen W. Godoff, lawyer for Kohli of Baltimore. "If Kohli was relying on this job for his daily sustenance, he would be in deep trouble."

In his 50s, Kohli works as an engineer for the state, his lawyer said, but will continue to pursue the case. Domino's officials and its lawyers did not return telephone requests for comment.

The seven-member commission may consider asking the legislature to change the law and streamline appeals as a result of the case, said Jonathan P. Sills, assistant general counsel. The Baltimore County court erroneously tried to enforce the commission's ruling in Kohli's favor without a separate request for enforcement, the high court said.

Henry B. Ford, executive director of the commission, said that if the ruling says a separate petition to the court is needed, that is what the HRC will do.

Domino's no longer has such a strict facial hair policy. In settling a 1993 federal court case, the company agreed to allow black men who have an ailment that affects their skin to maintain trimmed beards.

Pub Date: 10/10/97

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