A member of the Rastafarian religion claims that he was turned down for a bus driver's job in Buffalo because his hair hung halfway down his back in dreadlocks.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit in Buffalo last week against Greyhound Lines on behalf of Kevan Sheppard, 43, of Rochester.
The federal anti-discrimination agency charges that Sheppard was the victim of religious discrimination when Greyhound officials in Buffalo turned down his application for a driver's job last year.
"Our investigation showed that other applicants, with less experience and lesser credentials, were hired ahead of Kevan Sheppard," said Raechel L. Adams, an attorney for the EEOC. "We believe that he was turned down because he is a member of the Rastafarian religion."
Lynn Brown, a spokeswoman for Greyhound in Dallas, denied the charge of discrimination.
"We have about 4,000 bus drivers throughout the country, and we don't engage in discrimination of any kind," Brown said. "He wasn't hired because he was an unsuitable applicant."
When asked what was unsuitable about Sheppard, Brown said she could not give details because the company's reasons for not hiring him will be the subject of litigation.
Sheppard said he applied for a driver's job in late 1998 and drove to Buffalo on several occasions in early 1999 for meetings with supervisors, an orientation session, an aptitude test, a physical and a drug test.
"I had previous experience as a bus driver, and I had my passenger and air brake bus driver's license," Sheppard said. "All the interviews seemed to go well. I was told I scored well on my aptitude test and there should be no problem."
But Sheppard said a Buffalo official of the bus company told him in February 1999 that his long hair "might be a problem" and that he should probably cut it if he wanted a job.
"I told him I couldn't do that. I told him my locks are part of my religion," Sheppard said.
Adams said the EEOC later learned that about nine people with less experience and qualifications than Sheppard were hired as Greyhound drivers.
Brown, the Greyhound spokeswoman, said the company does have a hair and personal grooming policy for drivers, but she added that the policy would not prevent the company from hiring a person who grows long hair because of his or her religious beliefs.
Brown said she does not know if Greyhound currently has any Rastafarian drivers with dreadlocks.