Company Refused to Grant Employee Leave to Attend Church and Fired Her, Federal Agency Charged
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A North Carolina corporation that manufactures, designs, and produces orthopedic and sports medicine products will pay $55,000 and furnish further relief to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
In its suit (EEOC v. Medical Specialties, Inc. d/b/a Gaylord, Inc., Civil Action No. 3:11-cv-00464) filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division, the EEOC alleged that Evelyn Lockhart, an employee who is a Christian, was discharged after she refused to work on a religious holiday. Lockhart has been a follower of the Christian Holiness faith for the last 33 years. As part of her sincerely held religious beliefs, Lockhart abstains from work on certain sacred days, which include four Holy Days - Passover, Pentecost, the Day of Atonement and the Last Great Day.
According to the EEOC's suit, Lockhart was hired as a sewing machine operator for Gaylord in Wadesboro, N.C., in September 2006. On or about Oct. 15 and again around Oct. 20, 2008, Lockhart asked Gaylord for a day off for the Last Great Day that occurred on Oct. 21. According to the complaint, Lockhart specifically informed her supervisor that she needed to be off that day to attend church yet Gaylord denied Lockhart's request to be off that day. When Lockhart did not report to work that day because of her observance of the holiday, Gaylord discharged her.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires that employers make reasonable accommodations to employees' and applicants' sincerely held religious beliefs, as long as this poses no undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to paying $55,000 in damages to Lockhart, Gaylord must also take other actions set forth in the two-year consent decree resolving the case, including adopting a formal anti-discrimination policy, which includes information regarding religious accommodations, and conducting annual training on Title VII and its prohibition against religious discrimination and retaliation in the workplace. Gaylord will also post a copy of its anti-discrimination policy at all of its facilities.
"An employee should not be forced to choose between her faith and her job," said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District Office. "Under federal laws, employers have an obligation to balance employees' needs and rights to practice their religion with the conduct of their business. Where there is a minimal impact on the business, those religious needs must be accommodated. We are pleased with the settlement we reached with Gaylord, and happy that the settlement provides injunctive relief that will benefit all the company's employees."
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.