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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission



PRESS RELEASE
3-30-12

AutoZone to Pay $75,000 to Settle EEOC Religious Discrimination Lawsuit

Sikh Employee Was Harassed by Managers and Customers,  Barred From Wearing Turban at Work, Then Fired Over Religion, Federal  Agency Charged

BOSTON – AutoZone, Inc., a  Fortune 500 distributor and retailer of automobile parts, will pay $75,000 plus  attorneys’ fees and provide other nationwide relief to settle a discrimination  lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency  announced today. The EEOC’s lawsuit,  filed in September 2010, charged that AutoZone violated federal law when it  subjected Frank Mahoney Burroughs, an employee who had converted to the Sikh  religion, to harassment and refused to accommodate his religious need to wear a  turban.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit,  filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Massachusetts in  Boston (Civil Action No. 1:10-cv-11648), AutoZone managers at its Everett,  Mass., location harassed Mahoney Burroughs by disparaging his religion, asking  if he had joined Al-Qaeda and whether he was a terrorist. AutoZone also failed to intervene when  customers referred to him as “Bin Laden” and made terrorist jokes. The EEOC also charged that AutoZone refused  to let Mahoney Burroughs wear a religiously mandated turban and kara (a religious bracelet). Finally, the EEOC alleged that AutoZone  terminated him because of his religion and in retaliation for asking for an  accommodation and complaining about discrimination.

Religious harassment and  discrimination, as well as retaliation for complaining about them, violate  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation  settlement through its conciliation process.

On Jan. 11, Judge William Young  decided in favor of the EEOC on its claim that AutoZone had failed to  accommodate Mahoney Burroughs’ need to wear a turban. Rather than take the remaining issues to  trial, AutoZone entered into a nationwide consent decree, which was entered by  Judge Young today.

In addition to the monetary relief,  the decree requires AutoZone to adopt a policy prohibiting religious  discrimination; train its managers and human resource employees on religious  discrimination and the new policy; report to the EEOC on its handling of all  requests for religious accommodation and complaints of religious harassment;  distribute the new policy; and a notice regarding the consent decree to its  65,000 employees in more than 4,500 U.S. stores.

“It  is plainly unlawful as well as cruel and counter-productive to harass employees  or co-workers because of their religion,” said Elizabeth Grossman, regional  attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office, which has jurisdiction over Massachusetts. “Employers must be vigilant in watching out  for such misconduct and resolute in stopping it if they find it.”

Markus  L. Penzel, senior trial attorney for the EEOC, added, “We are pleased that  AutoZone, through this decree, has agreed to take the steps necessary to reform  its handling of religious accom­modation issues and to ensure that what  happened to Mr. Mahoney Burroughs will not happen to any other employees.”

Frank Mahoney Burroughs intervened  in the lawsuit and was represented by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights  Under Law of the Boston Bar Association and the Sikh Coalition.

The EEOC enforces federal laws  prohibiting employment discrimination.  Further information about the Commission is available on the agency's  web site at www.eeoc.gov.