ANNAPOLIS – The Baltimore County Circuit Court can’t force Domino’s Pizza to change its “no-beard” policy for employees without a hearing, even if those employees wear beards for religious reasons, the Maryland Court of Appeals said Thursday.
The appeals court said that in denying Domino’s request to stop a Maryland Human Relations Commission order to change the policy, the circuit broke Maryland rules on the use of injunctions.
The commission issued its order on January 17, 1996, nearly 10 years after Prabhjot S. Kohli was refused a spot in manager’s training at Domino’s restaurant under the no-beard rule. As a member of the Sikh religion, Kohli is forbidden from shaving any of his body hair, according to briefs filed in the appeal.
The commission order also directed Domino’s to offer its next available management training position to Kohli, to compensate him $5,755.09 plus interest in back pay and to “cease and desist from discriminating against any individual on the basis of religion.”
But the commission, an administrative agency that hears civil rights complaints, cannot enforce its own orders. For that, it needs court action, which it did not immediately seek.
Domino’s, meanwhile, twice went to court, asking Baltimore County Circuit Judge Barbara Kerr Howe to enjoin the commission from enforcing its order. Howe refused on both occasions, and on the second, ordered the restaurant to comply with the commission.
But Howe did not give the restaurant a hearing before issuing her order. It was that procedural error with which the Court of Appeals found fault.
Writing for the court, Judge John C. Eldridge cited a court rule he said applies “without exception”: “A court may not issue a preliminary injunction without notice to all parties and an opportunity for a full adversary hearing on the propriety of its issuance.”
A frustrated Stephen W. Godoff, Kohli’s attorney, said the appeals court had effectively stripped the circuit court’s authority to enforce the human relations commission’s rules.
“We’ve just added another year to Kohli’s pursuit of his rights under the Maryland anti-discrimination laws,” he said.
But Jonathan Sills, assistant general counsel for the commission, said the court’s opinion brought home to his office the need to file immediately for enforcement action in court, once an administrative order is issued.
James P. Garland and Kathleen Pontone, attorneys for Domino’s Pizza, declined to comment on the opinion.
The appeals court also rejected the commission’s argument that Domino’s had waited too long to file its appeal of the circuit court’s decision. The appeal, which must be filed within 30 days, came on May 20, 1996 — over two months after Howe’s first denial of the stay, but only six days after her second action. The appeals court sent the substantive issues of the case back to circuit court. -30-