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Fed Ex Charged With Discrimination

June 29, 2001 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Delivery giant FedEx violated federal anti-discrimination laws when they fired seven employees who wore dreadlocks for religious reasons, New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said.

The Memphis, Tenn.-based international delivery company has a policy prohibiting male employees from wearing beards, ponytails or braids. But Spitzer said in a lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn that there should be exceptions for those whose religions include specific types of hair or beards.

He said seven FedEx couriers, most of them Rastafarians who wear dreadlocks as part of their religion, were fired by the company in 1999. Spitzer said Rastafarians believe dreadlocks are ``a symbol of a covenant between the wearer and his Creator.″

Spitzer said the couriers offered to wear their hair under a hat or in a neat, businesslike fashion but the company refused and told them to cut off their dreadlocks or lose their jobs.

Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Spitzer said, an individual is ensured reasonable accommodations for sincerely held religious beliefs.

``We live in a diverse and pluralistic society,″ Spitzer said. ``Across the nation, employers must understand that federal law requires that religious practices be accommodated whenever possible.″

``FedEx has always been sensitive to our employees’ religious convictions,″ FedEx spokeswoman Mary Hartmann said in response to the charges.

By filing the lawsuit in federal court, Spitzer hopes to join a similar lawsuit already filed by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and strengthen state civil rights laws.