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PRESS RELEASE
11-7-18

GB Flowood Operations to Pay $25,000 To Settle EEOC Religious Discrimination Lawsuit

Female Employee Not Permitted to Wear Skirt Instead of Pants, Federal Agency Charges

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.-- GB Flowood Operations, LLC, which operates a Flowood, Miss., restaurant under the name "Georgia Blue," will pay a former employee $25,000 and furnish other relief to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, in October 2015 Georgia Blue hired Kaetoya Watkins to work as a server. When she learned the company's dress code required servers to wear blue jean pants, Watkins notified the manager of her Apostolic Pentecostal religious belief that women should wear only skirts or dresses and asked to be allowed to wear a blue jean skirt. According to the EEOC, GB Flowood denied the accommodation, advising Watkins that "the owner" would "not stray away from" the company dress code.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits religious discrimination and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees' and applicants' sincerely held religious beliefs as long as this does not pose an undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit (Case No. 3:17-cv-00777-TSL-LRA in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

"This case is a reminder that employers risk violating the law if they require an employee to choose between her job and her religion," said EEOC Birmingham Regional Attorney Marsha L. Rucker, whose jurisdiction includes Mississippi. "We are pleased that GB Flowood Operations is willing to make changes to its policies to accommodate the religious practices of its employees and prospective employees."

In addition to the monetary payment, the consent decree settling the suit requires the company to revise its written policies and procedures prohibiting employment discrimination and include procedures for reasonable accommodations based on religion, including making exceptions to the company's dress code to accommodate employees' religious beliefs and practices. The company will also provide training to its managers on the laws enforced by the EEOC and post a notice of non-discrimination on employee bulletin boards.

"This case emphasizes the EEOC's commitment to enforcing the rights of employees to religious freedom in the workplace," said Bradley Anderson, district director of the EEOC's Birmingham District Office. "Employers should be on notice that the EEOC will act aggressively to protect employees from this type of discrimination," he added.

The EEOC's Birmingham District Office has jurisdiction over Alabama, Mississippi (all but 17 counties in the northern part of Mississippi), and the Florida Panhandle.

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.