XODUS v. WACKENHUT CORP. (August 27, 2010)

Lord Osunfarian Xodus is a Rastafarian and Hebrew Israelite. He sports a dreadlocked hairstyle as a result of his religious beliefs. In mid-2004, his employer, a security firm, discharged him for his failure to comply with its grooming policy. He sought another security guard position and on July 7 interviewed at Allied Security and Wackenhut Corporation. Allied refused to hire him because of his dreadlocks. Later the same day, Wackenhut also refused to hire him. Xodus brought an action against Wackenhut, alleging religious discrimination. On summary judgment, Judge Walter (N.D. Ill.) concluded that genuine issues of fact existed and denied Wackenhut's motion. The case was tried to the court -- the only issue was whether Xodus brought to the interviewer's attention the fact that he had dreadlocks because of his religious beliefs. Xodus and the interviewer presented different versions of the day's events. Xodus testified that he specifically informed the interviewer that his refusal to cut his dreadlocks, which led to his earlier discharge, was based on his religious beliefs. The interviewer, on the other hand, testified that he raised the company's grooming policy as soon as he saw the dreadlocks and told Xodus that he would have to cut his hair in order to be hired. He further testified that Xodus never informed him of his specific religious beliefs, although he admitted that Xodus did make a single, innocuous reference to a "belief." The interviewer testified that he made no connection to a religious belief as a result of the remark. The court found for Wackenhut, concluding that the testimony of the interviewer was more credible. Xodus appeals.

In their opinion, Judges Bauer, Rovner, and Hamilton affirmed. The Court concluded that the district court's factual finding that the interviewer was not aware of Xodus’ religious beliefs was not clearly erroneous. A person's religion, unlike a person's gender or race, is not readily apparent. An employee or prospective employee, therefore, must advise his employer of particular religious practices or beliefs. The Court found that the district court's opinion, although brief, provided sufficient detail of the testimony and corroborating evidence that led to his conclusion that the interviewer's testimony was more credible.