Discrimination: US trucking firm agrees to pay $2.6L to Sikh drivers

Photo provided by the Sikh Coalition shows Lakhbir Singh, one of the four truckers. (AP File Photo)

A national trucking company has agreed to pay $2,60,000 (Rs 1.76 crore) to settle discrimination complaints by four Sikh drivers who were denied jobs for refusing to take drug tests that would have violated their religious beliefs.

JB Hunt Transport Services Inc reached the settlement that was announced on Tuesday with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to the agreement provided to The Associated Press.

The trucking company required three men to clip their hair for drug samples and required a fourth to remove his turban before providing a urine sample, said The Sikh Coalition, which represented the men and shared the agreement.

The four California men were not offered testing alternatives and were denied jobs when they refused to submit to the tests. Observant Sikhs never cut their hair and wear turbans in public at all times, said Harsimran Kaur, the group’s legal director. It is considered shameful and humiliating to remove a turban in public.

“The importance of this settlement is that it sends a message to employers that even drug testing regimens do not fall outside the purview of the federal anti-discrimination law. Employers can’t proffer safety as a blanket justification to discriminate,” said Kaur.

JB Hunt agreed to revise its anti-discrimination policies and provide training on accommodating religious beliefs, according to the agreement.

The Sikh Coalition said the case could have an impact on other trucking companies and industries. Thousands of Sikhs work as truckers in the US and the group said it has also learned of technology and pharmaceutical companies that asked Sikhs to provide hair samples, which can show the presence of drugs several months after use.

Employers can generally require a certain appearance at work, even barring beards or hair styles that might be associated with certain racial groups, said Ariela Gross, a law professor at the University of Southern California. However, those rules don’t tend to hold up when applied to religious groups that require a turban or bar them from cutting hair.

One of the truckers in the case, Lakhbir Singh, who emigrated from Punjab 20 years ago, said he always had submitted to urinalysis for drug tests for other jobs.

When JB Hunt required a hair clipping for testing while he attended job orientation in 2011, he offered to provide a hair sample from his comb, but wouldn’t allow his hair to be clipped.

After losing the job, he struggled for most of the next five years to find permanent, full-time work to support his family. He now works for another trucking company.


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