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Employment Discrimination Update: Failing to Reasonably Accommodate Your Employee’s Religious Beliefs or Practices Can Cost You

above-the-bar-logo.jpgThe EEOC settled a religious discrimination lawsuit this week with AutoZone, Inc., a national distributor and retailer of automobile parts. The Agency had charged the company with violating federal law by subjecting its employee, Frank Mahoney Burroughs who had converted to the Sikh religion, to harassment and refused to accommodate his religious belief of wearing a turbin.

If you have been discriminated against at your place of employment because of your religious beliefs or practices or your employer has failed to reasonably accommodate your religious beliefs or practices, our attorneys can help you determine you best course of action to recover your workplace rights.

Burroughs alleged that the harassment began when he converted to Sikhism in 2009. The managers at the store refused to let him wear a turban and a kara, a bracelet, which are required for male Sikhs. He was also harassed and asked if he had joined al-Qaida and whether he was a terrorist. When customers referred to him as “Bin Laden” and made terrorist jokes, AutoZone did not intervene. When Burroughs complained and asked for an accommodation, he was fired.

The EEOC had filed the action in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Massachusetts in Boston in September 2010, alleging that Burroughs was discriminated against because of his religion and then retaliated against for complaining and asking for a reasonable accommodation. Earlier this year in January, after the court ruled that AutoZone did fail to accommodate Burrough’s need to wear a turbin, the company agreed to the consent decree.

The agreement provides for the payment of $75,000 and for AutoZone to adopt a policy prohibiting religious discrimination. It also requires the company to train its managers and human resource employees on religious discrimination and the new policy, report to the EEOC on how it is handling all requests for religious accommodation and complaints of religious harassment, distribute its new policy, and provide a notice about the consent decree to its 65,000 employees in its 4,500 stores across the country.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to discriminate against an individual because of his or her religion with respect to any aspect of employment including hiring, firing, pay, training, job assignment, promotion, layoff, or any other term or condition of employment. Religious discrimination occurs when you treat an employee or job applicant unfavorably because of their religious beliefs. You are protected whether you belong to a traditional, organized religion such as Christianity, Hinduism, or Judaism and even if you have sincere religious, ethical or moral beliefs.
It is also illegal to harass a person because of his or her religious beliefs. For example, offensive remarks about a person’s religious beliefs are considered harassment. Although simple teasing and isolated comments may be harmless, harassment may become illegal if it becomes so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision such as an employee being terminated.

Unless it would be an undue hardship on your company’s business operations, you must reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious belief and practices. This refers to schedule changes, leave for religious observance as well as dress or grooming practices related to a religious reason. For example, this could include wearing a Muslim headscarf, a Jewish yarmulke, or a not cutting your hair and beard if you are a Sikh male.

AutoZone’s failure to stop the harassment and refusal to accommodate their employee’s religious beliefs was clearly shameful and unreasonable. If you’re being harassed at your workplace because of your religious beliefs, call our Religious Discrimination Attorneys at Villanueva & Sanchala at (800) 893-9645 to help you protect your rights at the workplace.


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