Considering the extent to which multiculturalism has established itself as part of the American landscape (even when society’s cranky WASP segment had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to acknowledge it), what happened with the J.P. Hunt trucking company (headquartered in Lowell, Arkansas) was so utterly uncalled for and anachronistic, it seemed downright mean-spirited and vindictive.
Briefly, these are the facts. Several Sikh truck drivers were denied additional employment with J.B. Hunt after refusing, on religious grounds, to cut their hair. The company wanted to test their hair samples for evidence of drug use. One of the tenets of Sikhism (an Indian religion founded in the 15th century) prohibits the cutting of one’s hair and mandates the wearing of turbans.
It should be noted that the Sikhs in question had excellent work records and had previously submitted regular urine samples, all of which were negative. Also, the men’s civil rights attorney pointed out to the company that fingernails (rather than hair) were frequently used in these tests not only because they were equally reliable, but because they could determine even earlier drug or alcohol use than hair samples could.
Also, as a clincher, their attorney reminded the company that the U.S. Department of Transportation, which oversees and regulates all commercial trucking, does not require hair testing. As hyper-aware of the importance of not having impaired truck drivers on our roads, the DOT is nonetheless willing to accept alternative methods of testing. But despite all that, the company refused to budge.
Whatever their reason (maybe because J.B. Hunt is so huge and influential, with more than 12,000 trucks and 47,000 trailers in its fleet), they stuck to their guns. The company refused to employ these Sikhs unless they agreed to cut off some of their hair—which they clearly knew was an egregious violation of their religious beliefs. If this doesn’t smack of cultural “imperialism” and intentional humiliation, I don’t know what does.
Full disclosure: I used to live in Punjab, India, which is the geographical and spiritual home of the Sikhs. Having known and socialized with literally hundreds of Sikhs, I readily admit to being “pro-India” and pro-Sikh.
That said, my personal biases have little to do with the arguments laid out here. Proof of that is the outcome of the case. In November, 2016, the government (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) came down on the side of the Sikh drivers, agreeing that they had been victims of religious discrimination.
Unfortunately, the EEOC investigation lingered for more than five years (the LA Times, November 16, 2016, stated that this had followed a seven-year federal investigation). What’s that old maxim? “Justice delayed is justice denied”? If one doesn’t get what he’s entitled to within a reasonable span of time, it becomes almost irrelevant. To have this cut-and-dried issue drag out for more than five years was unconscionable.
And even though these truck drivers technically “won” their David vs. Goliath battle, the news wasn’t all good. The EEOC was able to convince the mighty J.P. Hunt trucking company to award them the pitiful sum of $260,000….to be split up among several drivers.
Given the millions they must have spent on legal fees over five years, it raises the question: Why not save all that dough and simply comply with the law? Why not just test their damn fingernails and be done with it? Answer: Because they wanted to prove to these Sikhs—these “non-Christians”—that they could be forced to humiliate themselves. Nice.