Sikh Man Sues Convenience Store Chain

Burlington Times News, September 23, 2010

A Durham-based convenience store chain faces a federal lawsuit over its handling of two job applications from a man who immigrated to this country from India and claims it subjected him to religious and racial discrimination.

The chain, M.M. Fowler Inc., operates Family Fare stores throughout the state.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court in Raleigh, alleges that one of the firm’s account executives discriminated against Surjit Singh Saund, a 59-year-old resident of Wake County and adherent to the Sikh religion.

Sikhs can’t shave or cut their hair, and must wear turbans. Saund has complied with those strictures throughout his life, his lawyers say.

They hadn’t caused him trouble at other convenience-store jobs he’s held since his arrival in this country, including one at a Mobil station that he’s held for the past six years, the lawsuit said.

But Fowler’s account executive allegedly told Saund the firm wouldn’t hire him as a store operator unless he removed his turban, cut his hair and shaved, the suit claims.

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The commission’s [EEOC’s] website warns that employers do have to make what are termed “reasonable accommodations” for a worker’s or applicant’s religious practices.

It specifically mentions Sikhs as being among the faiths whose dress or grooming practices might require accommodation, save in cases of undue hardship.

A four-attorney legal team that includes a lawyer from an advocacy group called Public Justice, represents Saund. Based in Washington, D.C., Public Justice offers people help in civil-rights, environmental, labor and consumer-rights cases.

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