Employee Fired for Requesting to be Excused From Mandatory Morning Bible Study, Federal Agency Charges
DALLAS - Shepherd Healthcare, a medical practice in Lewisville, Texas, violated federal law when it fired an employee because of her repeated requests to be excused from a daily morning Bible study, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today. The EEOC also charged that the company unlawfully fired three other employees in retaliation for their opposition to the compulsory Bible study and other employer-imposed, religious-based observances or expectations.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Shepherd Healthcare has conducted mandatory staff meetings that begin each workday with a reading or study of Biblical verses, to include a discussion of how those principles could be applied to the employees' personal lives. Almeda Gibson had worked in the office call center of the medical practice for approximately one year. The EEOC alleges that Gibson, a follower of principles of Buddhism, asked to be excused from attending the religious portion of the compulsory meetings. Gibson's repeated requests for accommodation were denied, and she was then fired in July 2016 just one day after renewing her request to be excused from attending Bible Study sessions.
The EEOC also alleges in its lawsuit that Shepherd Healthcare retaliated against three other employees who were fired after expressing their objections or opposition to the office's mandatory meeting requirements for compliance with the religious expectations of the owners.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious discrimination in the workplace as well as retaliation for opposing an employer's discrimination. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Tim Shepherd MD, PA d/b/a Shepherd Healthcare, Civil Action No. 4:17-CV-02569-G), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The agency seeks back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for the victims, as well as injunctive relief.
"Of course, employers and employees are not required to leave their own religious beliefs at home when they walk through the workplace door. However, the law requires that employers reasonably accommodate requests to be excused from company-sponsored religious activities rather than firing employees who seek such accommodation," said EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Meaghan L. Shepard.
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.