Federal Agency Charged Manager Unlawfully Forced Employees to Engage in Prayer Ceremonies Regardless of Their Religious Beliefs
PHOENIX -- Lodging Enterprises LLC of Arizona, which does business as Oak Tree Inn in Yuma, will pay $75,000 and furnish other relief to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
The EEOC’s suit charged that Oak Tree Inn threatened employees with reprisals of reducing their hours or otherwise forced them to engage in a particular religious prayer ceremony in spite of their personal different religious views. The defendant, through its general manager, Carlos Paredes, derided certain religious beliefs of some of the employees, the EEOC said. He also attempted to impose his personal religious beliefs on employees. The unlawful discrimination created a hostile work environment and denied employees reasonable accommodation for their religious beliefs.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against employees on the basis of religion. The EEOC filed suit, EEOC v. Lodging Enterprises LLC of Arizona, dba Oak Tree Inn, Case No. 1:09-cv-2060-PHX-NVW in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona in Phoenix, after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement out of court through its conciliation process.
The consent decree settling the suit provides that Oak Tree will pay the settlement amount to a class of 12 employees who suffered as a result of the hostile work environment. The decree entered by the court further requires appropriate training of all employees by Oak Tree on religious discrimination. Both General Manager Carlos Paredes and Regional Manager Chris Goodman will be required to undergo individualized training about religious discrimination and the proper manner in which complaints of discrimination must be handled. They will also have serious warnings placed in their personnel files discussing the possibility of discharge if there is a recurrence of the unlawful activity which was alleged in the complaint. Oak Tree will also be enjoined from retaliating against employees or otherwise further violating Title VII.
EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill said, “Employees have a right to their own religious beliefs or no religious beliefs. Employees should never be subjected unwillingly to a supervisor’s religious views. In this day and age, employees certainly should be free from coerced prayer sessions, and the other forms of religious harassment which occurred at Oak Tree.”
Acting District Director Rayford O. Irvin of the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office added, “We will continue to vigorously pursue our mission of fighting employment discrimination on all fronts.”
Theresa Hurtado, a former employee who filed one of the three original charges of discrimination, said, “I really want to show my gratitude for the hard work that the EEOC staff put into this case. Justice prevailed! I am proof that all citizens of this country need not be afraid to defend all their rights and fight for what they believe in.”
The EEOC’s Phoenix District Office has jurisdiction for Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and part of New Mexico (including Albuquerque).
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.