Store Fired Jehovah’s Witness for Refusing to Wear Santa Outfit, Agency Charged
RALEIGH, N.C. – Department store chain Belk, Inc. unlawfully discriminated against an employee by failing to accommodate her religious beliefs and discharging her because of her religion, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina (EEOC v. Belk, Inc., Civil Action No. 5:10-CV-00300). Belk, Inc. is the largest privately owned mainline department store company in the nation, with more than 300 fashion department stores in 16 contiguous Southern states.
According to the EEOC’s suit, on or about November 27, 2008, Belk required Myra Jones-Abid, who worked in the gift wrap section of Belk’s Crabtree Valley Mall store in Raleigh, to wear a Santa hat and apron. Jones-Abid is a Jehovah’s Witness, and her religion prohibits her from celebrating holidays, including Christmas. Because of her religious beliefs, Jones-Abid refused to wear the Santa hat and apron, which are traditionally associated with Christmas, and which were going to be worn by gift-wrap associates during the Christmas holiday season. After Jones-Abid told her supervisors that she could not wear the Santa hat and apron because of her religion, Belk discharged her.
Religious discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In its complaint, the EEOC seeks back pay, reinstatement, compensatory damages and punitive damages for Jones-Abid, as well as injunctive relief. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement.
“In this case, the employer refused to provide a simple accommodation to enable Ms. Jones-Abid to practice her sincerely held religious belief and keep her job,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District, which includes the EEOC’s Raleigh Area Office, where the charge was filed. “An employee should not be forced to choose between her faith and her job. This case demonstrates the EEOC’s commitment to fighting religious discrimination in the workplace.”
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.