Friday, April 03, 2009

Religious Discrimination Lawsuits Settle for $365,000

"Employers need to recognize the increasing diversity of religion in our country and provide accommodations as required by federal employment discrimination laws."

These words, spoken by EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru, confirm workers' rights to freedom from religious discrimination at work. This week, the EEOC settled two religious discrimination lawsuits against a leading chicken processor, Gold’n Plump Poultry, Inc., and an employment agency, The Work Connection.

"The Pork Form." Applicants were required to sign a form stating that they would not refuse to handle pork in the course of their jobs in order to be referred for work at Gold’n Plump’s facilities, according to the EEOC. In addition to stopping use of the “pork form,” The Work Connection will provide each of the 28 class members, job seekers previously turned away for refusing to sign the “pork form,” with an offer for placement at Gold’n Plump.

Prayer Break Added. Gold’n Plump will add a paid break during the second half of each shift which will accommodate the religious beliefs of Muslim employees who wish to pray in the course of the work day. The break is in addition to a break early in the shift and lunch breaks which are required by law. The timing of the added break will fluctuate during the year to coordinate with the religious timing for Muslim prayers. The new break times will apply to all who work in a designated portion of the plant, regardless of religious faith.

Monetary Damages. Gold’n Plump also will provide $215,000 to a class of 128 Somali American Muslims who claimed religious discrimination, discharge and discipline. An additional $150,000 will be paid to 28 class members.

"My Way or the Highway." EEOC Trial Attorney Nick Pladson added, “When employees identify aspects of their religious beliefs that conflict with their employment, employers must engage these workers to explore solutions. Employers who take a ‘my way or the highway’ approach to requests for religious accommodation clearly do so at their peril.”

The EEOC has issued a new Compliance Manual Section regarding religious discrimination, harassment, and accommodation, in response to an increase in charges of religious discrimination, increased religious diversity in the United States, and requests for guidance from stakeholders and agency personnel investigating and litigating claims of religious discrimination.

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