March 18th, 2011
11:39 AM ET

Woman who says she was forced to wear Santa hat gets $55,000

From CNN Raleigh, North Carolina affiliate WRAL:

Belk Inc. has agreed to settle a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit that alleged the chain's Crabtree Valley Mall department store fired a woman because of her religious beliefs.

The lawsuit alleges that Myra Jones-Abid was working as a gift wrapper at Belk's in November 2008 when store managers ordered her to wear a Santa hat and Christmas-themed apron during the holiday season.

Jones-Abid is a Jehovah's Witness, and her religious practices prohibit her from celebrating holidays like Christmas, according to the lawsuit.

Read the full story about the lawsuit at WRAL.com

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Money & Faith • North Carolina • United States

soundoff (224 Responses)
  1. Darren

    I am a JW. have been for about 25 years. This woman made a choice of conscience to not wear the hat. Our religion does not say specifically that she could not wear the hat for her job. We don't get ordered around (for lack of a better way to say it) around by our religion. She could have viewed it as a part of her uniform, much the same way that if a JW works in a hospital might have a cross on their uniform. She decided that it would violate her conscience to wear the hat, refused, and it became an issue that went to court. Where she drew the line between what would violate her conscience and what wouldn't is strickly her choice.

    June 23, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  2. brucemo

    Employee: "I am a Jehovah's Witness. We have obscure beliefs about religion, which tend to cause situations that end up in court. For example, I can't wear this hat and apron. This may sound a bit odd-ball, but there are enough of us that we're not too far out of the mainstream. Please respect my religious beliefs by making a trivial compromise regarding work uniform."

    Employer: "Fine. Just continue doing a good job and everything is okay."

    Problem solved. I don't know why the employer caused themselves so much trouble by trying to make someone wear a hat and apron, when the employee explained that there was a religious issue involved.

    There have been court cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses forever, and they normally win. Get over it.

    April 16, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  3. john

    Very Simple, wear the hat OR be fired! Religion has nothing to do with it. It's part of the job, a uniform, the IMAGE the manager wanted. If you don't want to wear it, then find another job. THIS COUNTRY IS PATHETIC and going down. Wake up people. ha ha ha

    April 16, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • Aaron


      September 9, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
  4. Jim P.

    The store was stupid. You may not liek it or understand it but this would certainly be reasonable accomodation for a religious beleif.

    Accomodating her would not cost the store money nor undue hardship as I doubt anyone would have suddenly returned their gift because someone in gift-wrap wasn't wearing a dorky hat.

    I notice though that while her religion doesn't celebrate holidays, it seems to not mind suing people despite Christains are supposed to just turn the other cheek and not fight back. But it's arae beleiver of any stripe that willt urn down free money.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  5. NOwens

    Having just read and re-read the article, I think there's a point that missing:

    At no point did I see where it stated that Ms. Jones-Abid was hired specifically as a seasonal worker/gift wrapper. I'm going to assume that this means that she worked as a gift wrapper year-round, meaning that she would wrap wedding gifts, baby gifts, etc. As one of Jehovah's Witnesses myself, I'm not sure how she would handle gifts involving birthday-themed paper, Easter paper, Valentine's Day, etc. With regard to wearing a seasonal, Christmas-themed costume, I wouldn't wear it either, but then I think I would also probably not choose this kind of employment because this would obviously be an issue. That's me, however, and I don't know all the facts of the matter.

    With regard to all the vitriol spewed at Jehovah's Witnesses on this board:

    – I've never actually seen anyone going door to door on Halloween. I'm a NYer and that's the last night on earth I'd want to be at anyone's door; everybody and their brother is out partying, so what would be the point?

    – Anyone who recommends that an entire group of people should be eradicated from the planet simply because they disagree with their beliefs can count themselves along with HItler. He tried that, if you recall, and over 6 million innocent Jews, plus many non-Jews (including Jehovah's Witnesses) were murdered in the process. I've made it a point to read what I could in depth about the Holocaust, and the incredible evil done to so many innocents breaks my heart. You're absolutely sick to even suggest such a thing.

    – Hitler claimed to be Christian, but his actions were hardly Christ-like. If I claim to be a vegetarian and then have a big ol' burger, I'm not living up to what I claim, am I? You can call yourself anything you like, but are you trying to live up to it?

    Why is it that so many take the opportunity to comment here and spew venom, but then resent it when someone answers them? You all have the right to speak your piece. Why is it that so many people can't bear to have someone else speak theirs?

    April 15, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  6. Joseph

    She took a job wrapping Christmas gifts, one would think she was smart enough to know what that would include. She was probably in it from the beginning just to raise this lawsuit.

    April 14, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  7. Beavis2084

    Stupid people everywhere. This is more proof. Santa hats and Holiday decor have 0 to do with Christmas or religion. If they saw it that way, this would have been a non-issue. Christmas is about the birth of a person called Jesus in a book of old stories. None of the "traditional" holiday themed garbage that ties into "Santa" and the like have anything to do with this event.
    The idea that someone actually sues and wins over this is an example of the failure in law, etc. And what harm does wearing a Santa hat do to someone who is a Jehovah's Witness? None. Nothing at all would happen to them. They would simply have on a hat. People who fear that material things can affect their loyalty to a faith are stupid.

    April 14, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • lololololol

      Meh so if you have a wife and you wear something with the picture or name or whatever of another woman then your wife won't get mad right???

      April 25, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  8. MeMeMe

    It's one thing to wrap a gift and another thing to dress in celebration of the holiday. Just like eating a piece of fruit cake in January doesn't mean you are celebrating a holiday. If you eat the fruit cake on 25Dec while singing carols, etc.

    April 14, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  9. ja

    Yes they should not make anyone wear a Satan hat oops I meant Santa, anyway she should have not worked there. I don't celebrate Christmas in a secular way either. Santa is a pagan and so are all holidays. Jesus did not expect us to celebrate his birthday or he would have given us the date. We all have the right to our beliefs.

    April 14, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  10. D

    Just wondering if she was allowed to touch the CHRISTmas wrap .... again .... just wondering!!!!!!!!!!!! Get a job you can "believe" in lady!!

    April 13, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • MP

      There is nothing CHIRSTlike about christmas! It is all about satisfying the greedy merchants(china these days). get a clue Jesus never celebrated his birth & her certainly never told us to- he did however tell over to memorialize his death...which is the only holiday us JW's celebrate.

      October 15, 2011 at 8:30 am |
  11. David

    While I agree Belks handled this poorly, if you can't perform a task required of you to complete a job, then you should be let go...but not in a maliciously manner. NO employer can afford to cater to every person's beliefs. Is a dog groomer gonna be required to stop grooming dogs if an employee acquires an allergy to them? I know that is not an apples to apples comparison, but since an employer is not allowed to ask about religious preference, how are they supposed to run their business when every single decision they make might bring up issues?

    That said, she is not allowed to wrap presents...that is part of her faith. Was the store playing Christmas music? I hope she was wearing ear plugs.

    April 13, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  12. Spaghetti monster

    Religious discrimination is BS. First, any prohibitions resulting from religious believes are personal, voluntary choices made by individuals. Religion is a personal thing. You want to believe in stuff, do it, on your own time. People should stop going around and force others to accomodate them, and being offended when they are not. There is no difference between major religions and BS invented by joe-shmoe in his moms basement, or there should not be in a real secular country.

    Anyways, I think the case should be thrown out on the spot. Also the law should be changed to get rid of this whole religious discrimination. Justice and politics should stay away from religion.

    April 13, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  13. Amanda

    This woman obviously is just after money. If her religious beliefs do not allow her to celebrate holiday's such as Christmas then why take a job as a "gift wrapper" at Christmas time? She must have been told she would be required to wear "festive" attire!

    April 13, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  14. Wait a sec...

    I'm really not understanding how being asked to work in certain reasonable attire is a problem or infringes on her religious freedom. Putting on a burka wouldn't turn me into a practicing Muslim any more than putting on a badge would make me a police officer. "Celebrating" something and wearing attire that your employer requests are not the same thing. There are many jobs that require a certain level or type of dress by the employer and this is completely reasonable. If it is the Christmas holiday (aka shopping) season at the mall, if the employer designates a "uniform" to be worn you either wear it or exercise your right to not, at which point the employer can excercise their right to fire if in an "employ at will" state. I just don't see how putting on a hat clearly designated by the employer as uniform necessarily means that the individual is "practicing" a belief or "celebrating" a holiday. Really you'd just be doing your job in the required attire, noting more, nothing less...

    One more example for the road...
    Those poor souls wearing costumes out on the street promoting sales with a sign, doesn't make you the character.

    April 13, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  15. Roni K

    She should not have been working in gift wrap anyway. JW do not celebrate ANY holidays, not Christmas, not Birthdays, so any form of gift giving, henceforth gift wrapping, if we follow her line of logic, would have been offensive to her. Santa Claus has nothing to do with religion, a Santa hat is festive and commercial, not an outward sign of religious beliefs. I work with Muslims who do not celebrate Christmas, but they go to the office pot luck (even bringing in food!), wear santa hats and enjoy the season even though they do not celebrate it as a religious holiday.

    Rewarding someone 55k dollars over this is absolutely ridiculous, and I believe the company should appeal on principle alone.

    April 13, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • wjk

      I apologize, it would seem you were misinformed, or drew an incorrect conclusion. You are correct that we do not celebrate holidays, for various valid reasons, however you are completely off the mark in thinking that this would mean we do not participate in gift giving. We do not need a special occasion on which to give gifts, we give them any time we wish.

      April 14, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  16. jess

    To Amanda:

    You said "She was fired not because of her religious beliefs, but because she disobeyed a directive from her supervisor. It's just that simple". It's actually not that simple. If your employer tells you to give him a bj and you refuse, are you being fired because you didn't give him a bj or because you disobeyed a directive from your supervisor?

    In the end, it is obvious this woman just wants money. It's a shame all that time and money wasted on her.

    April 12, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
  17. Religions are a pile of dung

    Right. All religions are the subjugation of self AND others. No more; no less.

    April 12, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  18. s

    It was a uniform, required for employment, same as a police officer wears a uniform to work, or a nurse. If the person did not want to wear the uniform, she should have been terminated. Don't understand why this turned into a religous issue.

    April 12, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • lololololol

      So if you have a daughter working and she is ordered to wear a bikini as her "uniform" then its ok just because the employer says so

      April 25, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  19. BadAttorney

    Another way to look at this is if the santa hat was part of her uniform. Is Union Pacific allowed to fire its engineers if they refuse to wear their uniforms? Yes. Part of the job description. Is a rent-a-cop company allowed to fire its security personnel for not wearing proper attire to work (identifying them as security)? Yes. Part of the job description. It's irrelevant if said uniforms go against the religion of the employees. If it's part of your job – and you refuse to do it – then you're in violation of your employment agreement. This your employer can terminate you, however stupid and insignificant the violation. Wrapping Christmas gifts with a Santa hat on were not part of the job description (a bosses' whim, for example) – then wrongful termination suit and punitive damages are warranted and deserved. Otherwise – the lawsuit should have been thrown out as frivolous.

    April 12, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • tom

      Wow, you are a bad attorney - the railroad uniform has no connection with Christmas or any religious idea. NOwens probably has it right, if the company hired her as "Christmas seasonal help" wearing Christmas attire is probably a valid job requirement and a Jehovah's Witness should not ask for special treatment a JW should just not apply for work as Chrismas seasonal help unless it is in the back room wear Christmas attire is not required. If she works year round, the company should have cut her some slack - they probably have plenty of Christmas crap in the store already

      April 15, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • mklacjare

      You really would be a 'BadAttorney"...

      April 24, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  20. JW

    Ignorant People that have no beliefs,and go by what other people say are ones that believe that Jesus Christ was born in December.. Just like ones who believe Jesus is God...Soon, you all will know The Truth.....

    April 11, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.