On Thursday, February 11, 2010, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) announced that it had filed a lawsuit against T.A. Loving Company (a North Carolina based construction company) for denying a religious accommodation to several employees and then later firing them because of their religion. (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. T.A. Loving Company, Civil Action No. 5:10-cv-00054).
According to the EEOC, Elvis Cifuentes Angel and at least two other day laborers were members of the Seventh-Day Adventist Faith. According to their religious beliefs, they could not work on the Sabbath which runs from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. Cifuentes and his co-workers were terminated when they refused to work on Saturdays. The EEOC alleges that the Company knew that their objection to working on Saturdays was based on their religion. The EEOC is seeking back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive and other non-monetary relief.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against a person (applicant or employee) because of his or her religious beliefs. The law protects persons who belong to traditional organized religions and others who have sincerely held religious beliefs. In addition to prohibiting religious discrimination, Title VII requires covered employers to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious belief or practices, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense to the employer. Common examples of religious accommodations include flexible scheduling, shift substitution or shift swapping, job reassignments and modifications to workplace policies or practices.
In Fiscal Year 2009, the EEOC received 3,386 charges alleging discrimination based on religion and recovered $7.6 million dollars in monetary relief on behalf of charging parties. With few exceptions, the number of religious-based charges have increased each fiscal year since 2001. As a result, employers must ensure that supervisors and managers are aware of the company’s obligation to provide a religious-based accommodation to an employee, unless it would impose an undue hardship on the company.