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Today the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced that a hotel group that owns the Comfort Inn Oceanfront South in Nags Head, North Carolina, has agreed to pay $45,000 to a Seventh-day Adventist employee after refusing to honor her request not to work on Sabbath.
The Commission brought the suit on behalf of Adventist Claudia Neal, who had asked to not be scheduled to work from sundown Friday until sundown on Saturday. Neal began working at the hotel in May 2009, and she was not asked to work on Sabbath until there was a change in management in October 2010. In November of that year, the hotel group refused to accommodate her religious beliefs, and fired her.
The EEOC filed suit in US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process, the Commission said.
Today's press release also said:
In addition to providing monetary relief to Neal, the hotel group will implement policies designed to prevent religious discrimination and conduct training on anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws. The hotel group will also provide reports to the EEOC regarding future requests for religious accommodation.
"Employers need to understand their obligation to balance the conduct of their business with employees' needs and rights to practice their religion," said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District Office. "Where there is minimal impact on the business, those religious needs must be accommodated. No person should ever be forced to choose between her religion and her job."
Today's announcement is only the latest in a string of settlements and religious discrimination lawsuits the EEOC has brought against employers on behalf of Seventh-day Adventist employees who were not allowed to take off work from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. Many of the suits have been settled, with the companies paying somewhere between $24,000 and $47,500 in relief to the employees in recent cases.
The EEOC brings the suits under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious discrimination. The Act includes requiring an employer to make reasonable adjustments to the work environment that will allow an employee to practice his or her religion unless doing so would cause an undue hardship to the employer's business.
Last week, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Alabama company United Cellular for refusing to accommodate Seventh-day Adventist Charles Embry, and later firing him for refusing to work on Sabbath.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Embry was hired by United Cellular (a Sprint preferred retailer) in July 2011 as a full-time Authorized Service Center Technician and provided retail services to Sprint customers in the Huntsville, Alabama area. He explained his religious convictions during an initial interview, advising United Cellular that he would not be able to work from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.
In the fall of 2011, United Cellular began to schedule Embry for work on the weekends despite his request for an accommodation. When Embry continued to exercise his religious faith by honoring his Sabbath, United Cellular terminated his employment by telephone.
The suit seeks monetary and other relief, including back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, reinstatement into the position Embry previously held, and injunctive relief.
Some of the EEOC's cases over the last few years involve certified nursing assistants working at nursing homes: in July 2009 one in White Hall, Arkansas, got a settlement of $24,000. A car salesman at Maita Chevrolet in Sacramento, California took a case against his employer in September 2011, and in 2010 a Goldsboro, North Carolina-based construction company paid a settlement of $47,500 to three Seventh-day Adventist employees who were discriminated against.
And it's not only employees who are winning lawsuits. In December 2012, Altec, a manufacturing company in North Carolina, paid $25,000 to settle a suit brought against it when it decided not to hire a potential employee because he said in his interview that he would not be able to work on Sabbath because he was a practicing Seventh-day Adventist.
All information here can be found on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission website.
Image: Comfort Inn Oceanfront South, Nags Head, North Carolina.