Posts Tagged ‘religious accommodation’

EEOC Files Title VII Suit Against Cafe Over Pants Requirement for Female Pentecostal Employee

We take a break today from disability discrimination cases to bring you news of a religious discrimination lawsuit filed against an employer who insisted on strict application of its dress code, at the alleged expense of an employee’s right to a religious accommodation.

Sleneem Enterprises, LLC, a franchise operator of Tim Horton’s Café and Bake Shop in Romulus, Mich., violated federal law by refusing to permit an employee to wear a skirt instead of pants in accordance with her religious beliefs, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged in a lawsuit filed on June 19.

In its suit, the EEOC charged that employee Amanda Corley wore a skirt to work at the Tim Horton’s Romulus location instead of the standard uniform pants. She did so pursuant to her Pentecostal Apostolic faith. When she attempted to present a letter from her pastor explaining why she could not wear pants, management refused to accept the letter and informed her she was fired.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which requires employers to provide reasonable religious accommodations to employees. The EEOC filed suit (Case No. 2:17-cv-12337 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC is seeking injunctive relief prohibiting Sleneem from discriminating against other employees who need religious accommodations in the future as well as lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages and other affirmative relief for Corley.

“Sleneem’s refusal to accommodate Corley and the decision to instead fire her were completely unjustified and unlawful,” said EEOC Indianapolis Regional Attorney Kenneth Bird, whose jurisdiction includes Michigan. “It would have been simple to allow Ms. Corley to wear a skirt, and would not have negatively impacted the business in any way. Employers have an obligation to provide these types of reasonable religious accommodations, and when they fail to, the EEOC will step in.”

$30K Settlement Closes EEOC’s Religious Bias Suit for Rastafarian Employee at Orlando Resort

Grooming standards sometimes have to give weigh to religious accommodation in order to avoid violating Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Latest case in point: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced yesterday that an Orlando staffing company dedicated to Central Florida’s massive hospitality industry will pay $30,000 and implement a company-wide accommodation policy to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit

The EEOC’s lawsuit filed last July charged that HospitalityStaff violated religious discrimination law by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation to Courtnay B. Joseph, a Rastafarian, when it required him to cut his dreadlocks to comply with its client’s grooming standards in order to keep his position at an Orlando-area hotel. The EEOC said that HospitalityStaff took Joseph off his assignment and never reassigned him.

Rastafarians wear dreadlocks as part of their sincerely held religious belief, and making an employment decision because of such a religious practice violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Under the decree, which was agreed to soon after EEOC filed its lawsuit, HospitalityStaff agreed to pay Joseph $30,000 in damages. The company will also amend its employee handbook and policy manual to include a clear policy providing for reasonable accommodations covering both disability and religious-based requests. Further, HospitalityStaff agreed to provide training to its managers and human resources personnel, and to voluntarily provide information to EEOC concerning its handling of religious discrimination complaints for three years.

“HospitalityStaff’s decision to provide training and to implement policy changes relating to reasonable accommodations should be commended,” said Kimberly A. Cruz, supervisory trial attorney for the EEOC’s Miami District Office. “These policy changes demonstrate the company’s commitment to providing reasonable accommodations to its employees with sincerely held religious beliefs.”

“The Supreme Court’s opinion in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch reminds us that we must be vigilant in protecting sincere religious expression in the workplace,” said Robert Weisberg, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Miami District Office. This is particularly important where the Commission has recognized ‘the increasing complexity of employment relationships and structures, including temporary workers, staffing agencies, and independent contractor relationships’ in an ever more on-demand economy.”

EEOC Sues Employer for Not Allowing Jewish Applicant to Delay Job Until After Rosh Hashanah

An employer has to be meshugena (Yiddish for crazy) to deny an employee time off to observe the Jewish High Holidays. It’s only one of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar.

To defend this action under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the employer has to show that giving the employee time off would be an undue hardship for it.

That’s what a Maryland-based company is up against in having to respond to a lawsuit filed against it by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf a Jewish applicant who refused to start his new job until after Rosh Hashanah.

The EEOC filed this religious discrimination lawsuit against XPO Last Mile, a logistics company that specializes in the delivery of items such as office furniture, home furnishings and fitness equipment on behalf of Tzvi McCloud .

McCloud had applied for a dispatcher/customer service position at the company’s Elkridge, Md., office. According to the suit, when the operations manager called McCloud and told him to report to work on Oct. 3, 2016, McCloud advised that he could not start on that date because he celebrated the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah, on that date. The operations manager replied that he thought it would be acceptable for McCloud to start on Oct. 4. Later that evening, however, the market vice president called and told McCloud he must report to work on Oct. 3. The EEOC said the market vice president told McCloud that the company only honored federal holidays, and that if he gave McCloud a religious accommodation, he would have to extend them to other employees.

McCloud did not report to work on Oct. 3 due to his mandatory religious observance. When he reported to work on Oct. 4, he was sent home. The EEOC said XPO Last Mile violated federal law when it revoked its offer of employment because McCloud was unable to work on Rosh Hashanah.

“Federal law requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to work schedules or rules that will allow an applicant or employee to practice his or her religion unless it would be an undue hardship,” said EEOC Philadelphia District Office Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. “Unfortunately, XPO Last Mile’s intransigent refusal to provide a religious accommodation cost them the services of a hard worker and led to this lawsuit.”

EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, “The freedom to exercise one’s religious beliefs is one of our nation’s fundamental values. Mr. McCloud simply asked if he could start work one day later than scheduled so he could observe Rosh Hashanah, one of the Jewish High Holy Days. A one-day postponement of a start date is not an undue hardship.”

For a primer on the do’s and don’ts of religious discrimination under Title VII, click this page on EEOC’s web site.

Bad Breaks: Car Parts Manufacturer Hit Reverse on Religious Accommodation, EEOC Suit Alleges

A change in supervisors at a car parts manufacturer led to the pulling of a religious accommodation for a Sabbath-observant employee–and that led to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission getting involved.

The EEOC announced yesterday that it has filed a religious discrimination lawsuit under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act against Decostar Industries, Inc., a manufacturer and supplier of automotive parts based in Carrollton, Ga.

According to the EEOC’s suit filed yesterday, Decostar violated federal law by firing Dina Lucas Velasquez rather than accommodating her religious beliefs. Sometime in 2010, Decostar required all employees to work mandatory overtime hours on designated Saturdays.

Line worker Velasquez requested that she be excused from working Saturdays due to her religious belief that she cannot work during her weekly Sabbath, which she observes from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. The EEOC said that Decostar initially granted Velasquez’s request until January 2014, when a new supervisor took over her department and denied her ongoing request for a religious accommodation. Decostar subsequently discharged Velasquez on Oct. 27, 2014.

“The EEOC remains vigilant in enforcing the mandates of federal law requiring employers to properly consider all requests and to grant accommodations to sincerely held religious beliefs,” said Antonette Sewell, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Atlanta District Office.

Bernice Williams-Kimbrough, district director for EEOC’s Atlanta District Office, added, “Unfortunately, employers refusing time off for religious observances has become an increasingly common issue affecting the workforce. We hope that suits like this will help educate employers on their responsibilities to respect workers’ religious needs.”

Here’s a refresher from the EEOC on the do’s and dont’s of religious discrimination and accommodation.

Suit Settled Against Hospital That Wouldn’t Accommodate Employees Objecting to Flu Shot

An employer can require as a condition of employment that employees get a flu shot. But like any other condition of employment, this one is subject to the duty of reasonable accommodation when an employee objects on religious grounds to the requirement.

That’s the upshot of an announcement by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that it settled a Title VII religious discrimination lawsuit it brought against Saint Vincent Health Center located in Erie, Pa.

According to the EEOC, in October 2013, the Health Center) implemented a mandatory seasonal flu vaccination requirement for its employees unless they were granted an exemption for medical or religious reasons. Under the policy, employees who received an exemption were required to wear a face mask while having patient contact during flu season in lieu of receiving the vaccination. Employees who refused the vaccine but were not granted an exemption by the Health Center were fired, according to EEOC’s lawsuit.

From October 2013 to January 2014, EEOC alleged, the six employees identified in its complaint requested religious exemptions from the Health Center’s flu vaccination requirement based on sincerely held religious beliefs, and the Health Center denied their requests. When the employees continued to refuse the vaccine based on their religious beliefs, the Health Center fired them.

According to EEOC’s lawsuit, during this same period, the Health Center granted fourteen (14) vaccination exemption requests based on medical reasons while denying all religion-based exemption requests.

The six employees will share in a $300,000 monetary award under the settlement.

The settlement also comes with a whole lot of stipulations:

(1) if the Health Center chooses to require employee influenza vaccination as a condition of employment, it must grant exemptions from that requirement to all employees with sincerely held religious beliefs who request exemption from the vaccination on religious grounds unless such exemption poses an undue hardship on the Health Center’s operations;

(2) it t must also notify employees of their right to request religious exemption and establish appropriate procedures for considering any such accommodation requests.

(3) when considering requests for religious accommodation, the Health Center must adhere to the definition of “religion” established by Title VII and controlling federal court decisions, a definition that forbids employers from rejecting accommodation requests based on their disagreement with an employee’s belief; their opinion that the belief is unfounded, illogical, or inconsistent in some way; or their conclusion that an employee’s belief is not an official tenet or endorsed teaching of any particular religion or denomination.

(4) the Health Center must provide training regarding Title VII reasonable accommodation to its key personnel and that it maintain reasonable accommodation policies and accommodation request procedures that reflect Title VII requirements.


EEOC: Reasonable Accommodation Denied to Woman Whose Religion Forbids Wearing of Pants

Had an employer in South Carolina tried to accommodate a female job applicant who said her religious beliefs require her to wear a dress to work, it wouldn’t find itself opposite the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in federal court.

According to EEOC’s suit, Clintoria Burnett is an observant member of the Apostolic Faith Church of God and True Holiness, a Pentecostal Christian denomination. Burnett holds the religious belief that she cannot wear pants because she is a woman, and that she is commanded to wear skirts or dresses.

Burnett was hired by recruiter TLSP in or around October 2014. The TLSP extended to Burnett an offer of employment to work at Akebono’s West Columbia, S.C., facility for the benefit of Akebono. While the TLSP had the authority to recruit and hire temporary laborers for placement at Akebono’s facility under the terms of a staffing agreement between the two entities, Akebono maintained the ultimate authority to deny hire to any employee recruited by the TLSP. Burnett accepted the TLSP’s offer of employment.

Akebono maintained a dress code policy requiring employees to wear pants while at Akebono’s facility. Ultimately, Akebono directed the TLSP not to hire Burnett because of her religious belief. Akebono did not consider any potential religious accommodations. Based on Akebono’s directive, the TLSP withdrew Burnett’s offer of employment.

Akebono did not consider any potential religious accommodations: There’s the crux of this lawsuit under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

To read more about the lawsuit, click here.

Thanks to Jon Hyman for including this post in his weekly roundup of Nov. 11, 2016.


Muslim Employees Fired Over Prayer Breaks

The rights of Muslim employees to take prayer breaks during the workday versus the employer’s right to set workers’ schedules came to a head recently at a Wisconsin company.

According to media reports, seven Muslim employees of Wisconsin-based Ariens Co., a lawn mower and snowblower manufacturer in Brillion, Wisconsin, were fired for taking unscheduled breaks taken to pray in observance of Islamic custom. Fourteen workers resigned in the process, while 32 Muslim employees chose to stay with the company.

Observant Muslims pray five times daily. The company previously had a break schedule that accommodated the prayers. As it hired more Somali immigrant workers, however, it reached a  “critical mass” of employees seeking a more lenient prayer-break schedule, an Ariens spokeswoman said.

Though Muslim employees called on the company to keep the previous break schedule, Ariens decided to do away with the policy in favor of two 10-minute breaks per shift, no matter the employee’s faith.

Ariens is just the latest company to encounter such disputes. Late last year, 190 employees at a Cargill meat processing plant in Fort Morgan, Colorado, were fired, over a change in policy on Muslim prayer breaks. The move occurred more than a week after workers protested the changed policy by walking off the job at a Cargill Meat Solutions plant in Fort Morgan. The plant had decided to stop allowing special breaks for prayers, CAIR said.

Under the original policy, Cargill had not only allowed the practice but also provided a room for the purpose. The time for the ritual was carved out of a 15-minute break period or from an unpaid lunch break.

Cargill denied changing the policy, saying it has provided a “reflection area” for all employees but that no accommodation is guaranteed, but rather must be flexible depending on staffing needs.

Cargill said it fired the workers only after multiple attempts to discuss the situation with local Somali employees.

Don’t be surprised if either or both of these disputes winds up before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if the parties cannot settle the matters privately.

In the meantime, here’s the EEOC’s web page on religious discrimination, including reasonable accommodation of religion in the workplace.

This post was featured in Ohio Employer’s Law Blog weekly wrap-up on February 12.