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PRESS RELEASE
3-20-17

EEOC Files Religious Discrimination Lawsuit Against J.C. Witherspoon, Jr., Inc.

Company Fired Hebrew Pentecostal Truck Driver Because of His Sabbath Requirement, Federal Agency Charges

CHARLESTON, S.C. - J.C. Witherspoon, Jr. Inc., a South Carolina corporation headquartered in Alcolu, violated federal law when it refused to accommodate a truck driver's religious belief and fired him because of his religion, Hebrew Pentecostal, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.

According to the EEOC's complaint, Leroy Lawson has been a Hebrew Pentecostal for approx­imately 35 years. As a Hebrew Pentecostal, he holds the sincere religious belief that he must not engage in labor during the Biblical Sabbath, which, in Lawson's faith, begins at sunset on Friday and ends at sunset on Saturday.

In March 2012, Lawson was hired as a truck driver at J.C. Witherspoon's Alcolu facility. During a pre-hire interview, Lawson informed the truck supervisor and foreman that he observes the Sabbath on Saturdays, and would need an accommodation of not working on Saturdays due to his religious beliefs.  In or around April 2012, just weeks after Lawson's hire, all drivers were required to work on a Saturday, the EEOC said. Although Lawson worked that day, at the end of the day Lawson told the foreman he would not work on a Saturday, his Sabbath, ever again because of his religious beliefs.  The company did not require Lawson to work on a Saturday again until around Dec. 27, 2013.

On December 27, 2013, Lawson was notified that he would have to work the next day, a Saturday.  Lawson refused.  The EEOC alleges that when the Owner of the company learned that Lawson refused to work on Saturdays, the Owner instructed the Foreman to terminate Lawson's employment.  The EEOC contends that on Dec. 28, 2013, the company terminated Lawson because he would not work on Saturdays.

Such action violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to sincerely held religious beliefs of employees absent undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Columbia Division (EEOC v. J.C. Witherspoon, Jr. Inc., Civil Action No. 2:17-cv-00745-DCN-MGB) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief.

"Under federal law, employers have an obligation to endeavor to fairly balance an employee's right to practice his or her religion and the operation of the company," said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for EEOC's Charlotte District Office. "This case demonstrates once again the EEOC's commit­ment to fighting religious discrimination in the workplace."

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.