Transportation Security Agency Violated Rights of Rastafarian Baggage Screener at Logan Airport

November 17, 2009 12:00 am

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ACLU says TSA cared more about appearance of its client than safety

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BOSTON — An administrative judge of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has ruled that the Transportation Security Administration
(TSA) violated the rights of baggage screener Josue Brissot when managers threatened to fire him if he did not comply with the agency’s policy requiring hair to be short.

From the time he was hired by TSA in October 2002, Brissot wore his hair in long dreadlocks in accordance with his Rastafarian religion, believing that long hair shows one’s devotion to God and that the longer the hair, the closer one is to God.

Brissot, a highly regarded screener, had been assured when hired that the agency had no problems with the way he wore his hair for religious reasons.

Yet, by 2004, after continually being passed over for raises and promotions, Brissot began to ask questions and was told his hair was not in compliance with agency policy. In August 2005, managers threatened him with loss of his job, and he came to the ACLU of Massachusetts for help.

“The irony of this case,” said Sarah Wunsch, ACLU of Massachusetts staff attorney, “is that the so-called ‘faith-based administration,’ the Bush Administration, was willing to fire an excellent, highly trained screener because he wore his hair long for religious reasons. They showed no respect for his religious needs and apparently cared more about appearances than safety.”

Boston attorney Jonathan Margolis, who was co-counsel in the case, noted that the law requires employers to make accommodation to employees’ religious needs, unless to do so would impose an undue burden on the employer. “We made many proposals to TSA on how to reasonably accommodate Josue’s religion,” Margolis said, “and they literally told him to stuff it, to stuff his long thick dreads inside his shirt collar. The judge said that was unreasonable and, indeed, it was.”

With the ACLU’s backing, Brissot was not fired in 2005, but it took years to get the judge’s decision, just recently released, supporting his discrimination claim. The EEOC administrative judge, Erin M. Stilp, has scheduled a hearing for February 2010, on the remainder of Brissot’s case, an assessment of damages to compensate him for violation of the federal law prohibiting employment discrimination based on religion. The case, originally entitled Brissot v. Chertoff, is now Brissot v. Napolitano, EEOC No. 520-2007-0702, since Janet Napolitano replaced Michael Chertoff as head of the Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency of the Transportation Security Administration.

A copy of the interim decision is available here:

For more information about the ACLU of Massachusetts, go to:

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