BAY LAKE, Fla. - An Orlando cook said the dreadlocks his religion requires him to wear cost him his job, and now a federal agency that fights workplace discrimination is investigating his termination.
During his more than 25 years in the food service industry, Courtney Joseph has worn a chef's cap in the kitchen.
“I come with it on,” Joseph said. “I leave with it on.”
The Rastafarian said his religious beliefs forbid him from cutting his hair.
Joseph said he was wearing the hat in 2011 when HospitalityStaff hired him to work in a kitchen at Shades of Green, a U.S. Department of Defense-owned resort at Walt Disney World.
A newly field lawsuit alleges that Joseph was fired in 2013 because he didn’t comply with Disney’s new appearance standards, which required him to cut his hair.
“It's telling me that who I am is not important, and it makes it, like, heartbreaking.” Joseph said. “And that's something I could never do.”
Joseph and his attorney filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which takes on less than 25 percent of the nearly 90,000 charges it reviews annually.
"Staffing agencies touch so many different employment decisions each day, and each year, potentially affecting thousands of individuals,” said Brandi Meredith, an EEOC attorney. “Particularly, here in Florida, where the hospitality industry is such a large part of our economy.”
In an emailed statement, HospitalityStaff said Joseph wasn’t fired but instead quit, adding that it “doesn’t discriminate on any basis and routinely enforces relevant grooming guidelines with employees, regardless of religious preferences.”
Joseph is convinced evidence will prove otherwise.
“It's my faith, my belief,” he said. “I just have to stand up and fight for that.”
The EEOC said Disney wasn’t included in the lawsuit because HospitalityStaff was Joseph’s direct employer.
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