EEOC Suit Said Pentecostal Employee Fired for Refusal to Wear Pants as Part of Uniform
CHICAGO -- Judge Michael M. Mihm of the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois has entered a Consent Decree resolving a religious discrimination suit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") against Brink's, Inc., a Division of Pittston Co., Inc. ("Brink's") under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC brought the lawsuit on behalf of Carol Grotts, a practicing Pentecostal who was hired by Brink's to work as a relief messenger at its Peoria, Illinois, area facility.
The relief messenger is one of the uniformed employees the nationwide security firm assigns to its armored car crews. When Grotts, whose religious beliefs preclude her from wearing pants, requested a modification of the standard issue uniform - she requested to wear culottes of uniform material purchased at her own expense instead of pants - Brink's refused her request and terminated her employment.
In addition to providing for $30,000 in monetary to relief to Grotts and paying her attorney's fees, the Consent Decree requires Brink's to train all managers at its Peoria area facility about Title VII's prohibitions on religious discrimination and a company's duty to reasonably accommodate an employee's religious beliefs. The Consent Decree further mandates that the company distribute its policy against religious discrimination to all employees at its Peoria branch facility and post a notice that the company will not discriminate on the basis of religion and will reasonably modify its uniform requirements to accommodate religious beliefs.
Grotts filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC and the federal agency found "reasonable cause" to believe that Brink's discriminated against her by refusing to reasonably accommodate her religious beliefs. After the EEOC's efforts to conciliate the case proved unsuccessful, the agency filed suit. After Grotts filed her charge of discrimination with the agency, Brink's rehired Grotts as a relief messenger and permitted her to wear culottes in accordance with her religious beliefs.
EEOC Chicago Regional Attorney John C. Hendrickson said, "This Consent Decree is an important reminder for employers that Title VII requires reasonable accommodation of an employee's sincerely held religious beliefs. In our religiously pluralistic society, employers cannot unreasonably create inflexible policies that infringe upon an individual's ability to live in accordance with his or her religious beliefs."
Hendrickson noted that religious discrimination charge filings with the EEOC nationwide have increased 21% in the past year, from 2,127 filings in Fiscal Year 2001 to 2,572 filings in FY 2002 (according to preliminary data). Since, FY 1994, religious bias charge filings with the EEOC have risen 40% (from 1,546).
Remarking on the settlement with Brink's, John Rowe, Director of EEOC's Chicago District Office, said: "In addition to providing appropriate monetary relief to Ms. Grotts, this settlement accomplishes something important for current and future Brink's employees by providing for training that will have a long-term positive impact on their workplace."
The case was filed by the EEOC in the federal district court for the Central District of Illinois in Chicago on March 28, 2002, and captioned EEOC v. Brink's, Inc. The case number is 1:02-cv-01111. The Consent Decree was signed by the Judge on December 27, 2002.
EEOC Trial Attorney Richard J. Mrizek said: "I am happy the parties were able to come to an agreement in this case. Grotts should not have been required to choose between respecting her religious beliefs and keeping her job with Brink's. I am hopeful that this agreement will prevent future qualified applicants from facing that dilemma."
EEOC is the federal agency charged with the administration, interpretation and enforcement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy or national origin. The EEOC is also responsible for enforcing the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended; the Equal Pay Act of 1963; and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits discrimination based on disability. More information about the EEOC and the laws it enforces can also be found at http://www.eeoc.gov.