Freedom, not immunity: Damages awarded unnecessarily to Muslim truck drivers

The debate of religious freedom has populated mainstream media significantly, specifically in the last year. Furthermore, it’s infiltrated the workplace yet again.

In Illinois, Mahad Abass Mohamed and Abdikarim Hassan Bulshale were fired from Star Transport Inc., a private trucking company, for refusing to deliver alcohol. The drivers argued it was against their religious values as practicing Muslims to handle these goods, and the company ousted them.

A 2013 lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission and the subsequent trial this October awarded $40,000 in compensatory damages and $200,000 in punitive damages by the jury in their discriminatory case. The case was ruled in their favor because the trucking company violated their religious beliefs.

The trucking company did not provide the drivers with a reasonable accommodation and terminating them because of their beliefs was deemed unlawful, according to the lawsuit.

However, the private company had the right to fire them, no matter the reason. This was not an issue of religious freedom violation; the drivers were asked to do a job and could not fulfill it. The awarded damages were absolutely unnecessary.

This situation is similar to the Kim Davis incident that occurred in September. Davis, a Kentucky county clerk, refused to issue a marriage license to two gay men because it conflicted with her Christian belief. She argued her First Amendment rights were violated, as she could not express her freedom of religion.

Davis was hired to do a job, which she refused to complete. In her case, she violated the law. With Mohamed and Bulshale, their company hired them to do a job they would not do. It was because of this that they were fired; it was not an attack on their religion. A private entity reserves the right to fire or hire whomever it needs to complete a job.

It should be understood that although religious freedom is a right, employees of a private business do not have the right to expect preferential treatment based on this protected freedom.

In both cases, there could have been accommodations made to have another employee substitute and take care of the task at hand.

One of the main differences between the two cases, though, is that Davis was working for a government entity, and the drivers were working for a private business. In any case, an employer or any sort of authority figure has every ability and right to hire and fire who they feel will get the job done in a timely manner.

While companies should respect the religious beliefs of their workers, this relationship does not protect an employee’s right to stay at the company — or collect damages — when it sees fit to fire them. This trucking company did not violate a law when they got rid of these two workers. However, to avoid this, job requirements need to be discussed thoroughly before a duty is given to save both parties the cost of time and money.