Flight Attendant Refuses to Serve Alcohol to Passengers; Cites Religious Beliefs

lthough the news of a clerk in Kentucky currently sitting in jail because of her refusal to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples due to her religious beliefs has been one of the top stories recently in the United States, there is also the lesser-known story of a flight attendant who was suspended from her job because of her refusal to serve alcoholic beverages to passengers — also due to religious beliefs.

In a bid to get her job back with ExpressJet — a carrier which is contracted to operate regional jet service on select flights for all three legacy airlines in the United States — Charee Stanley filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of the United States on Tuesday, September 1, 2015 for the revocation of a reasonable religious accommodation, according to this article written by Emanuella Grinberg and Carma Hassan of CNN.

Stanley — who is Muslim and 40 years old — started her employment for ExpressJet almost three years ago; but she converted to Islam approximately a year afterwards. Among the things she learned this year was that her faith prohibits her from not only consuming alcohol but serving it, too — so contingent of an arrangement with of management of the airline, she would have a colleague fulfill the request of an alcoholic beverage from a passenger; and Stanley reportedly wants to continue to perform her job without serving alcohol in accordance with her Islamic faith.

Stanley was placed on unpaid administrative leave as a result of the formal complaint.

I have always felt that a job should be something a person wants to do and enjoys doing it — from which an employer should benefit as well — but if the job includes a significant aspect with which the person performing it does not agree, the person should probably consider choosing to seek employment elsewhere.

One example to which I can personally relate is when I am performing a role when I am acting part-time. If the script contains profanity — which is usually superfluous to the plot, in my opinion — I will politely refuse to perform that portion of it and recommend alternatives. Thankfully, directors have been graciously accommodating to that request; but I am usually prepared to deal with the day when the only choice is either to use the profanity in the script — or relinquish the role.

Another example is when I went to a client in Southern California which produced artwork for the packaging of pornographic videos. Before taking on that assignment of training them on how to use hardware for increased efficiency in how to create the graphic graphics – sorry, but I could not resist — I was asked if my beliefs would preclude me from wanting to conduct the training. I had no issue with it at all and agreed to conduct the training.

However, finding a job these days is not as easy as it was years ago. Technology has not only streamlined the number of jobs in a variety of professions; but it has also facilitated finding and applying for those jobs for a greater number of candidates. I can understand the hesitance of quitting a job, not knowing when a new paying position will come along. The person still has to eat and live with a roof over his or her head in the meantime; and it can be a daring yet scary proposition.

One difference in the cases based on religious beliefs between the Christian clerk in Kentucky and the Muslim flight attendant is that the law changed during the employment of the clerk — of which she had no say or control — while the flight attendant chose to convert to Islam a year after she was employed by ExpressJet. Should that difference make a difference?

I do not consume alcoholic beverages, nor am I an expert on religion; but I do recall alcoholic beverages being served aboard airplanes during flights operated by airlines based in predominantly Muslim countries — such as my first flight as a passenger aboard an airplane operated by Etihad Airways, which is based in the United Arab Emirates — and I do not recall there being any problems or issues. Could it be that none of the flight attendants were Muslim? Is there something pertaining to the provisions of the Islamic faith of not consuming or serving alcoholic beverages of which I am not aware that clarifies the difference between Stanley and the aforementioned flight attendants of airlines based in predominately Muslim countries serving those alcoholic beverages to passengers?

I personally believe that it was petty of the colleague to complain that Stanley had a book with “foreign writings” and wore a headdress. Whether it is a hijab or a yarmulke, a person should theoretically be permitted to dress accordingly to the religion in which he or she believes — and what is wrong with possessing a book with “foreign writings”?

What do you think a person should do if religious beliefs preclude him or her from performing the roles of his or her job? Should that person go against his or her beliefs and do the job anyway; or should that person quit and find a different job more suitable to his or her beliefs?

8 thoughts on “Flight Attendant Refuses to Serve Alcohol to Passengers; Cites Religious Beliefs”

  1. GUWonder says:

    This flight attendant story was all over the TV news today.

    While at first I thought the FA was being unreasonable, I have some reservations about what has transpired since this is about the REVOCATION of what the airline had previously considered a reasonable religious-based accommodation for this converted FA rather than this beinf about a pursuit of a new religious-based accommodation (as is the case with the KY marriage license clerk). That said, I do have concerns with the FA pursuing this matter, especially if it is to set or confirm precedent in some strange way, such as it may give rise to a question of what is to be done if say someone hired to be a peep-show stripper suddenly attaches to a new religion that prohibits being a a stripper. Would the owner of the peep-show booths have to retain the employment of the stripper as a stripper?

  2. shaun says:

    Serving the customers drinks is a pretty big job % of a flight attendant. If u don’t want to serve 3A a g&t why be a flight attendant? Especially on a reginal??? What else is she doing that the flight deck isnt??? Or the in flight instruments/alarms? I’m an atheist so I think any religious reasoning in bad usually Santa talk….but this is even beyond that. Do ur job or dont

    1. Mpt says:

      Agree. For a regional carrier it’s undue burden on employer due to limited staffing.

  3. DaninMCI says:

    While these cases seem somewhat the same and your points are good they are actually much different. The FA changed her religion after being employed in a job where she knew the duties. I don’t fault her for requesting that she not be required to serve alcohol but is this much different than refusing to work on an aircraft that serve it at all? I also don’t see why the airline couldn’t accommodate her as it seems reasonable and most aircraft have at least two FA’s.
    The case of the KY. County Clerk is different in that her religion didn’t change. She is also not an employee but an elected official that is responsible for her office. I even wonder if the judge that put her in jail violated her right to conduct the business of the county. She is also being requested to perform a newly moral defeating task under a ruling of the Federal Government (who she doesn’t technically serve, but actually serves the county and swears an oath under state law).
    Interesting stuff though. Good post.

    1. Traveler says:

      DaninMCI -It is largely because the clerk in KY is a public official that her stance is unconstitutional. The U.S. Constitution takes precedence over local and state laws and constitutions. When a public official takes a stance that prevents a citizen from enjoying her/his civil rights, even if it violates the public official’s moral/religious code, that public official is violating the Constitution. SCOTUS has determined that the right to marry is a Constitutional right, even for same-sex couples, and public officials are obligated to obey that ruling. The same principals applied to those who wanted to enforce suddenly unconstitutional laws that outlawed interracial marriage because of their religious beliefs, after Loving vs. Virginia.

  4. Ryan says:

    The revocation of the FA’s prior accommodation should make the case interesting going forward.

    As to the differences with what is commonly believed in Islam on handling booze, Title VII actually doesn’t require that a sincerely held belief be commonly held among the religion in question, interestingly enough.

    A key point in the Kim Davis story that seems to be lost in most stories and discussions is that she is also asking for an accommodation in order to perform her job. She wants the document to omit her personal name from all marriage licenses (gay or straight), such that it would only mention the county & state. With that, Ms. Davis says she would resume performing the duty of issuing the license. She believes her personal name on the license constitutes, or appears to constitute, an endorsement of homosexual marriage. It appears KY state law arguably allows for such an accommodation. I won’t try to repeat it all here but this WaPo opinion discusses it in length along with the Muslim FA case:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/09/04/when-does-your-religion-legally-excuse-you-from-doing-part-of-your-job/

  5. Nico says:

    If a local sheriff in small town America said that according to his religious beliefs, people should be segregated by race, would anyone be arguing that he should be allowed to pursue his belief and arrest interracial couples? Or allow hate crimes against them?

    Of course not. We’d say that “sheriff” isn’t the job for him (or her). The law says segregation is illegal. The law says hate crimes are illegal.

    Those employed in the executive branch never make the law. Their job is neither to make nor evaluate law – it is to uphold and carry out the law. If one can’t accept that a job in this branch makes one beholden to the laws as they are passed and upheld by representatives of the people (Yes, I’m aware that this was a supreme court interpretation – those justices are representatives of the people as well), a job in the executive branch isn’t the right job for them.

    I have absolutely no sympathy for Kim Davis – and it has nothing to do with my views on gay marriage. When a chief executive is replaced by someone from another party, plenty of jobs are lost and change hands. Government positions are fluid and change as the political climate changes.

    I do not disagree with her right to her beliefs. I do not disagree with her right to not want her name on the licenses. Those are freedoms she has. She just can’t also have a job that requires those actions.

    If my boss suddenly required me to do things that I’m not comfortable with – whether because of workload or scope or moral beliefs, I’d politely refuse and say that if these things are requirements, I’ll need to look for a new job. End of story.

  6. Robbo says:

    Moslems trying to take over everything. Why do we have to change the way we do things to suit the moslems. I for one, am sick of them and their religion. This woman would have been trained, would have known about alcohol. So you can’t sue when you know the damn rules. If you have a problem with your religion woman, get another job. We don’t want you and your sick religion being thrust upon every facet of our lives. And now you have the hide to sue. How bloody dare you. I hope to christ the judge throws it out of court and throws you in jail for a few days for creating a public nuisance. If you don’t like alcohol in a Western democracy, go and live the hell in Saudia Arabia. And try and sue those bunch of dictators when you aren’t allowed to even drive a car or walk down the street with a man.

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