U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
After 15 Years Observing Sabbath, Employee Required to Work Sundays
SEATTLE – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today filed a federal lawsuit against retail giant Walmart for disciplining and threatening to fire an assistant manager at its Colville, Wash., store when he refused to violate his religious beliefs.
Richard Nichols, a devout Mormon, began working for Walmart in 1995 and started as a manager at the Colville store in 2002. As part of his religious practice, Nichols observes the Sabbath by refraining from work of any kind (including household chores or shopping) and limits his activities to church-related activities. From 1995 to 2009, Walmart accommodated his request for leave on Sundays. However, in the fall of 2009, Walmart revised its scheduling system and refused to continue accommodating Nichols.
“For the last 15 years, I have loved working for Walmart,” Nichols said. “I enjoy what I do and the people I work with. But this refusal to take into account my religious needs is causing me a great amount of stress. I’m afraid I’ll be fired for choosing my religion over my work; it’s not a choice I want to have to make.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to the sincere religious beliefs of employees, as long as the accommodations do not pose an undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Walmart, Inc. Case No. ____) Western District of Washington, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement. The suit seeks back pay and other monetary losses, compensatory and punitive damages for Nichols and appropriate injunctive relief to prevent any future discrimination.
“ Where there is a conflict between an employee’s religious beliefs and work rules, the law mandates that employers make a sincere effort to accommodate those beliefs,” said Luis Lucero, director of the EEOC’s Seattle Field Office. “ Walmart’s refusal to explore any workable solutions with Nichols is not only illegal but short-sighted. Why would anyone treat a long-time, dedicated employee this way?”
EEOC Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo of the agency’s San Francisco District Office, which has jurisdiction over Washington state, said, “Employers who simply deny requests for a religious accommodation are violating the law. An employer with the kind of resources that Walmart has can surely find the flexibility and creativity to allow a valuable employee continue to keep his Sabbath.”
According to www.walmartstores.com, Walmart Stores, Inc. (NYSE: WMT) employs more than two million workers at 8,400 retail stores under 55 different banners in 15 countries and had sales of $405 billion in fiscal year 2010.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Additional information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.