On October 23rd, the EEOC announced a $756,000 jury verdict in a lawsuit brought against AT&T on behalf of two employees who were suspended and fired for attending a Jehovah’s Witness Convention. (E.E.O.C. v. AT&T Arkansas, No. 3:06-cv-00176, (E.D.AR 2007).
During a four-day jury trial, the two men testified that they (1) submitted written requests to their manager for a one-day (Friday) leave of absence in order to attend a three-day annual religious convention, (2) sincerely held a religious belief that required them to attend the annual Jehovah’s Witness Convention, and (3) had attended the Convention each year while employed by AT&T.
This jury verdict is a reminder to all employers that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits religious discrimination and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees’ and applicant’s sincerelyheld religious beliefs as long as they do not pose an undue hardship on the employer.
Nancy Sasamoto, Chair of the Firm’s Employment Group, notes that religious discrimination claims are on the rise. Further, to prevent a claim of religious discrimination, Nancy suggests that employers confine their analysis to whether the employee’s requested religious accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the business and avoid the urge to analyze whether the employee sincerely holds the particular religious belief. Undue hardship is determined on a case-by-case basis and employers are often required to establish that the requested accommodation will disrupt the work routine. Nancy points out that employer inconvenience does not equal undue hardship.