The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

PRESS RELEASE
9-23-09

ALLIANCE RENTAL CENTER SUED BY EEOC FOR RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION

Aaron Rents Franchisee Fired Jehovah’s Witness for Religious Objection to ‘Red Shirt Fridays,’ Federal Agency Charges

DALLAS – Denton, Texas-based Alliance Rental Center, L.P., which operates an Aaron Rents franchise in Bridgeport, Texas, violated federal law by firing a product technician when he declined to participate in the company’s “Red Shirt Friday” dress code, a store practice intended to show support for the U.S. military, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, (Civil Action No. 3:09-cv-01757-F), filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Tyler Templeton, a Jehovah’s Witness, is prohibited by his religion from expressing opinions about government matters, including military affairs. Alliance required employees to wear red shirts provided by the company on Fridays as a show of support for the armed forces. Templeton reported that he informed his supervisors about his religious beliefs and his observance of neutrality on issues of war, including military efforts. After seeking to be excused from wearing the red shirt on Fridays, he was reprimanded for not complying with the Friday dress code. The EEOC said company management disregarded his requests that he be excused from that particular aspect of the dress code, and fired him shortly thereafter.

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 after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement. The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief to ensure that no further discrimination takes place.

“It is not an employer’s place to formulate its own interpretation of an employee’s religious beliefs and base its accommodation decision on misguided and uninformed conclusions about that employee’s religion,” said EEOC Trial Attorney Meaghan Shepard.

Regional Attorney Robert A. Canino of the EEOC’s Dallas District Office said, “This is simply a matter of an employer showing absolutely no respect or tolerance for an individual’s religious observances. Given the nature of the business, there should have been no reason that a good employee like Mr. Templeton should have had to compromise on a tenet of his faith just to keep his job.”

The EEOC noted that in company-owned stores, Aaron Rents, the national franchisor, maintains the program as voluntary and provides religious accommodations to employees excluding them from the program. However, Aaron Rents franchisees around the country that fail to provide religious accommodations to employees whose religion prohibits their participation are violating the law.

In Fiscal Year 2008, religious discrimination charge filings with the EEOC and state/local agencies nationwide rose 14 percent to 3,273.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.

This page was last modified on September 23, 2009.

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