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Fact Sheet on Recent EEOC Religious Discrimination Litigation

(Last updated 2-19-15)

Highlights

  • Since the start of FY 2010, the Commission has filed 68 lawsuits involving claims of religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
    • In FY 2014, we filed 8 religious-related lawsuits. This was 10% of all Title VII suits.
    • In FY 2013, we filed 12 religious-related lawsuits. This was 15% of all Title VII suits.
    • In FY 2012, we filed 9 religious-related lawsuits. This was 13% of all Title VII suits.
    • In FY 2011, we filed 15 religious-related lawsuits. This was 9% of all Title VII suits.
    • In FY 2010, we filed 24 religious-related lawsuits. This was 12.5% of all Title VII suits.
  • Since the start of FY 2010, the Commission has recovered approximately $4,000,000 (as well as important injunctive and other case-specific "make whole" relief) for victims of religious discrimination through its litigation program. The Commission secured this relief through jury verdicts, appellate court victories, court-entered consent decrees, and other litigation-related resolutions.
  • Religious-related lawsuits filed since FY 2010 have involved workers in all segments and sectors of the workforce - e.g., in healthcare, social services, hospitality, retail, staffing, manufacturing, wholesale supply, energy, and food/beverage service, among others.
  • Violations have involved a variety of fact patterns, including:
    • Refusing to hire or firing religious workers after learning their religion;
    • Discharging workers who take leave for religious-related events (such as observing the Sabbath);
    • Failing to accommodate religious-related garb choices;
    • Retaliating against employees who requested a reasonable accommodation or complained about religious discrimination.

Notable Court Victories

  • EEOC v. Abercrombie and Fitch, 2013 WL 1435290 (N.D. Cal., Apr. 9, 2013) (No. 5:10-cv-03911-EJD) (resolved 9/19/2013) (CP Halla Banafa). The EEOC sued Abercrombie alleging that it violated Title VII when it failed to accommodate Charging Party's religious beliefs and practice of wearing a hijab (headscarf) and by failing to hire her because of her religion (Islam). Charging Party Banafa, a Muslim teenager, applied for a job stocking merchandise at the Abercrombie store in Milpitas, California. In accordance with her religious beliefs, she wore a colorful head scarf to her interview. The manager who interviewed her asked if she was Muslim and required to wear a head scarf. The manager then marked "not Abercrombie look" on Ms. Banafa's interview form. The EEOC alleged that Abercrombie refused to accommodate Ms. Banafa's religious practices by granting an exception to its "Look Policy," an internal dress code that includes a prohibition against head coverings. The district judge held that Abercrombie could not meet its "undue hardship" defense and granted the EEOC partial summary judgment, citing the "dearth of proof" linking store performance or the Abercrombie brand image to "Look Policy" compliance. (See Docket No. 106). The parties subsequently consolidated this case with another EEOC lawsuit (see below) on behalf of another Muslim teenager and entered into a consent decree to resolve both cases.
  • EEOC& Khan v. Abercrombie and Fitch, 966 F.Supp.2d 949 (N.D. Cal. 2013) (No. 4:11-cv -03162-YGR) (resolved 9/19/2013) (CP Umme-Hani Khan). The district judge found Abercrombie liable for religious discrimination when it fired a Muslim employee for wearing her hijab (religious headscarf). (See Docket No. 129). In this case, the EEOC alleged that Abercrombie discriminated against Charging Party Khan when it failed to accommodate her religious beliefs and practice of wearing a hijab (head scarf) and terminated her because of her religion (Islam) in violation of Title VII. Charging Party Khan started working at the Hollister store (an Abercrombie & Fitch brand targeting teenagers aged 14 through 18) in San Mateo, California in October 2009. As an "impact associate" she worked primarily in the stockroom. At first she was asked to wear headscarves in Hollister colors, which she did. However, in mid-February 2010, she was informed that her hijab violated Abercrombie's "Look Policy," a company-wide dress code, and was told she would be taken off schedule unless she removed her headscarf while at work. Charging Party Khan was subsequently fired for refusing to take off the hijab that her religious beliefs compelled her to wear.

    In her summary judgment order, the district judge noted: "It is undisputed that Khan was terminated 'for non-compliance with the company's Look Policy.' Khan's only violation of the Look Policy was the headscarf." (See Docket No. 129 at 14). The court dismissed Abercrombie's argument that "its Look Policy goes to the 'very heart of [its] business model' and thus any requested accommodation to deviate from the Look Policy threatens the company's success." The court held that Abercrombie "only offers unsubstantiated opinion testimony of its own employees to support its claim of undue hardship. The deposition testimony and declarations from Abercrombie witnesses demonstrate their personal beliefs, but are not linked to any credible evidence." (Id. at 16).

    The EEOC and Abercrombie resolved both California cases for $71,000 in monetary relief ($48,000 for Ms. Khan and $23,000 for Ms. Banafa). Abercrombie also entered into a three year consent decree which required it adhere to a revised "Accommodation Policy" that includes an appeals process through which an applicant or employee may appeal a denial of a request for religious accommodation to the "Look Policy" and requires Abercrombie to inform applicants during interviews that it may be possible to get an exception to the "Look Policy."

  • EEOC v. AutoZone, Inc. (D. Mass. No. 1:10-cv-11648-WGY) (resolved 3/29/2012). The EEOC sued AutoZone under Title VII alleging that Charging Party, a Sikh, was denied a religious accommodation as well as subjected to religious harassment by management and customers. The Commission alleged that AutoZone refused to allow Charging Party to wear a turban and kara (religious bracelet) and subjected him to disparaging questions such as whether Charging Party was a terrorist and whether he had joined Al-Qaeda, as well as referring to him as "Bin Laden" and subjecting him to terrorist jokes. Finally, the EEOC alleged that AutoZone terminated Charging Party because of his religion and in retaliation for requesting an accommodation and complaining about discrimination. The district court granted partial summary judgment to the EEOC on the failure to accommodate religion claim but determined there were genuine issues of material fact on both the retaliation and harassment claims. (See Docket No. 61). The parties subsequently settled the case for $75,000 and entered into a three year consent decree requiring AutoZone to, among other things, adopt a new policy prohibiting religious discrimination, train its managers and human resource employees and provide a notice regarding the consent decree to its 65,000 employees nationwide in more than 4,500 U.S. stores.

Cases Involving Religious Garb and Grooming

  • EEOC v. Mims Distributing Co., Inc. (E.D. N.C. No. 5:14-cv-00538) (resolved 1/24/2015). The EEOC sued Mims Distributing alleging that it refused to accommodate Charging Party's religious beliefs, and failed to hire him because of his religion, Rastafarian, in violation of Title VII. Charging Party is a practicing Rastafarian who holds the religious belief that he cannot cut his hair. In accordance with these religious beliefs, has not cut his hair since at least 2009. Charging Party applied for a job as a delivery driver with Mims Distributing in May 2014. The EEOC contended, at that time, the company informed him that he could have the position if he cut his hair. The EEOC further alleged Charging Party told Mims Distributing that he could not cut his hair because of his religious beliefs. The company ultimately refused to hire Charging Party. Mims Distributing agreed to pay $50,000 to settle the case and entered into a two year consent decree requiring it to adopt, implement and distribute an anti-discrimination and religious accommodation policy to all employees, provide annual training to its management staff on Title VII and religious discrimination, and submit reports to the EEOC.
  • EEOC v. 704 HTL Operating, LLC, and Investment Corporation of America, d/b/a MCM Elegante (D. N.M. No. 1:11-cv-00845 JCH/LFG) (resolved 11/15/13). The EEOC sued MCM Elegante for failing to accommodate Charging Party's religious beliefs (Islam) and practices as required by Title VII. Specifically, the EEOC alleged that Charging Party was not permitted to work as a housekeeper unless she removed her religious head covering. When Charging Party explained that as part of her religious beliefs and practices she was required her to wear a hijab, the EEOC alleged MCM Elegante refused to accommodate her. Charging party was subsequently fired. MCM Elegante agreed to pay $100,000 to settle the case and entered into a two year consent decree which required it to institute policies and procedures to address religious discrimination and retaliation as well as reasonable accommodation requests. The company will also train its staff on religious discrimination and posting a notice advising employees of their rights under Title VII.
  • EEOC v. ABM Security Services, Inc. (E.D. Pa. No. 2:12-cv-04075) (resolved on 7/19/13). The EEOC sued ABM under Title VII alleging that it refused to accommodate Charging Party's religious beliefs when it fired her after she refused to remove her khimar, an Islamic religious head scarf that covers her hair, ears and neck. Charging Party, an observant Muslim, wore her khimar at the time she was interviewed and offered a job as a security officer for ABM. The EEOC contended when she reported to work the following day, ABM asked her to remove her khimar if she wanted to work for ABM. After Charging Party refused to remove the khimar due to her religious beliefs, the EEOC alleged ABM fired her instead of providing a reasonable accommodation. ABM agreed to pay $65,000 to settle the case and entered into a three year consent decree requiring it to implement a new dress code policy allowing for religious accommodations, post a notice of this policy for all employees, re-train its management and human resource personnel about religious discrimination, and maintain complaint and investigation procedures for any employee who complains of discrimination.
  • EEOC v. McDonald's Restaurants of California, Inc. (E.D. Cal. No. 1:13-cv-02065AWI-SAB) (resolved on 12/20/13). The EEOC sued McDonald's under Title VII for refusing to allow Charging Party, a Muslim crew trainer, to grow a beard for religious reasons. Charging Party had been working for McDonald's since 2001. In 2005, the EEOC alleged he informed McDonald's of his religious beliefs and sought an accommodation to grow a beard. When McDonald's denied the accommodation, the EEOC alleged Charging Party was forced to resign, i.e., constructively discharge. McDonald's agreed to pay $50,000 to settle the case and entered into a two year consent decree which required McDonald's to train its managers and staff, and redistribute its existing policies related to religious discrimination and accommodation.
  • EEOC v. United Galaxy Inc., d/b/a Tri-County Lexus (D. N.J. No. 2:10-cv-04987-ES-SCM) (resolved on 11/18/13). The EEOC sued Tri-County Lexus under Title VII alleging that it refused to hire Charging Party based on his religion (Sikhism) and failed to provide him with a religious accommodation to the dress code policy that forbids beards for sales and administrative personnel. Charging Party's religious beliefs require him to wear a beard, uncut hair and a turban. Despite the fact that Charging Party was qualified for the sales position, the EEOC contended Tri-County Lexus strictly enforced its dress code policy and refused to grant him a reasonable accommodation. Tri-County Lexus agreed to pay $50,000 to settle the case and entered into a two year consent decree requiring it to provide anti-discrimination training to its employees, and appoint an EEO coordinator to ensure compliance with the anti-discrimination laws.
  • EEOC v. Scottish Food Systems, Inc. d/b/a Kentucky Fried Chicken and Laurinburg KFC Take Home, Inc. d/b/a Kentucky Fried Chicken (M.D. N.C. No. 1:13-CV-00796) (resolved on 4/25/14). The EEOC sued KFC alleging that it failed to accommodate Charging Party's religious beliefs and terminated her in violation of Title VII. Charging Party, a KFC employee since 1992, converted to Pentecostalism in 2010. As a member of the Pentecostal church, Charging Party holds the religious belief that she cannot wear pants because she is a woman. In accordance with this religious belief, Charging Party stopped wearing pants in the fall of 2010 and began wearing skirts to work. In 2013, the EEOC alleged Defendant Scottish Food Systems purchased KFC and at that time informed Charging Party that she must wear pants to work because of their dress code policy. The EEOC further claimed Charging Party notified Scottish Food Systems that she could not wear pants because of her religious beliefs. Instead of reasonably accommodating her, Scottish Foods Systems terminated her for refusing to wear pants to work. Defendant agreed to pay $40,000 to settle the case and entered into a three year consent decree requiring it to adopt, implement, post, and distribute to all employees its anti-discrimination and religious accommodation policy as well as train its management staff on that policy.
  • EEOC v. Fries Restaurant Management, LLC d/b/a Burger King (N.D. Tex. No. 3:12-cv-3169-M) (resolved on 1/18/13). The EEOC sued Burger King alleging it failed to accommodate Charging Party's religious beliefs and subsequently terminated her, in violation of Title VII. Charging Party, a teenager and member of the Christian Pentecostal Church, adheres to an interpretation of the Scripture that requires women to wear only skirts or dresses. The EEOC alleged, at the time she applied to work as a cashier, she informed the interviewer of her need to wear a black skirt instead of black uniform pants as a religious accommodation. She was hired by a shift manager, who assured her that she could wear a skirt to work. However, when Charging Party attended orientation, the EEOC contended she was told by store management that the employer would not allow her to wear a skirt and that she had to leave the store. Charging Party attempted to explain her religious accommodation request, but was allegedly told that she could not work in the skirt. Charging Party was subsequently discharged. Burger King agreed to settle the case for $25,000 and entered into a two year consent decree requiring it to post a notice regarding its policy against religious discrimination and duty to accommodate, and conduct annual training of its management staff.
  • EEOC v. Family Foods d/b/a Taco Bell (E.D. N.C. No. 5:11-cv-00394-FL) (resolved 4/30/2012). The EEOC sued Taco Bell alleging that if refused to accommodate the religious belief and practice of Charging Party and discharged him because of his religion (Nazirite). Charging Party, a practicing Nazirite, began working for Taco Bell in 2004. In 2010, Taco Bell informed him that he had to cut his hair in order to comply with its grooming policy. Charging Party informed Taco Bell that he could not cut his hair because of his religion, (i.e., Nazirites do not cut their hair, believing that long hair is a way of showing their devotion to God). The EEOC alleged when Charging Party refused to cut his hair, Taco Bell terminated him. Taco Bell agreed to pay $27,000 to settle the case and entered into a two year consent decree requiring it to adopt, implement, and distribute its anti-discrimination and religious accommodation policy to all employees, provide annual training to all employees and report information pertaining to reasonable accommodation requests to the EEOC.

Other Cases Involving Reasonable Accommodations

  • EEOC v. United Parcel Service, Inc. (D. N.J. No. 2:12-cv-07334) (resolved on 11/1/2013). The EEOC filed suit alleging that UPS discriminated against Charging Party when it failed to accommodate his religious beliefs by denying his request to change his work schedule to attend an annual religious service and subsequently terminated him in violation of Title VII. Charging Party, a Jehovah's Witness, was hired by UPS as a part-time loader in April 2011. The EEOC alleged shortly after his new-employee orientation, Charging Party learned he was scheduled to work on the day of his church's annual religious service. He requested a schedule change but UPS denied the request. UPS subsequently terminated him for failing to report to work on his scheduled work day. The EEOC further alleged that after Charging Party was terminated, he was placed on a company-wide "do not rehire" list and was unable to get another job with UPS after re-applying elsewhere. UPS agreed to pay $70,000 to settle the case and entered into a three year consent decree requiring it to post its religious accommodation policy in conspicuous places, conduct anti-discrimination training for managers and supervisors, and discuss the policy with employees during pre-work meetings.
  • EEOC v. Maita Chevrolet Geo (N.D. Cal. No. 4:11-cv-4815-JSC; transferred to E.D. Cal. No. 2:11-cv-03133-MCE-KJN) (resolved on 9/25/2013). The EEOC filed suit under Title VII alleging that Maita failed to accommodate Charging Party's religious practices and instead harassed, disciplined, and discharged him because of his religion, Seventh-day Adventist. Charging Party, a Nigerian immigrant and a Seventh-day Adventist, worked for Maita as a car salesman from April 2005 until he was fired in May 2007. A key tenet of his faith is to observe the Sabbath by refraining from secular work from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. The EEOC alleged that Maita persistently scheduled Charging Party to work shifts during his Sabbath despite numerous requests from him and his pastor for an accommodation due to his religious practices and beliefs. The Commission also alleged that Charging Party was harassed, denied work on Sundays, and ultimately disciplined and discharged for taking leave to observe his Sabbath. Maita agreed to pay $158,000 to settle the case and entered into a two year consent decree requiring it to revise its personnel manual to include a section on reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs and practices, train its management on religious discrimination, and provide regular reports regarding religious accommodation requests or complaints of religious discrimination to the EEOC.
  • EEOC v. Ozarks Electric Cooperative (W.D. Ark. No. 5:12-cv-05014) (resolved on 3/25/2013). The EEOC filed suit under Title VII alleging that Ozarks failed to provide Charging Party with a religious accommodation and then fired her because of her religious beliefs. Specifically, the EEOC alleged that Ozarks denied Charging Party a day off to attend a Jehovah's Witness convention and then terminated her when she chose to attend the convention rather than report to work. Ozarks agreed to pay $95,000 to settle the case and entered into a two year consent decree requiring it to modify its leave policy to include an appeals process for employees who are denied a religious accommodation, provide training to its management on religious discrimination, as well as post a notice reinforcing the company's policies regarding Title VII and its procedures for reporting and preventing discrimination in the workplace.
  • EEOC v. Boca Group LLC, d/b/a Menorah House (S.D. Fla. Nos. 9:11-cv-80825-KLR and 9:12-cv-80172-KLR) (consolidated cases) (resolved on 3/9/12). The EEOC filed two lawsuits under Title VII alleging that Menorah House denied a religious accommodation to two certified nursing assistants who were Seventh-Day Adventists and fired them because of their religious beliefs. As part of their religious beliefs and practices, Charging Parties' do not perform work on the Sabbath, (i.e. from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday). Menorah House had accommodated the two women's religious practices for more than ten years, until management instituted a policy requiring all employees to work on Saturdays, regardless of their religious beliefs. The EEOC alleged both Charging Parties informed Menorah House of their religious beliefs and practices and requested a reasonable accommodation. The Charging Parties did not report to work on Saturday as scheduled and Menorah House subsequently terminated them. Menorah House agreed to pay $125,000 to settle the case and entered into a three year consent decree requiring it to revise its religious discrimination policies, conduct anti-discrimination training with an emphasis on accommodating religion in the workplace to all employees and to post anti-discrimination notices at all of its facilities.
  • EEOC v. Aviation Concepts (D. Guam No. 11-cv-00028) (resolved on 4/2/12). The EEOC filed suit under Title VII alleging that Aviation Concepts terminated Charging Party, an assistant mechanic, after he refused to raise the flags of the United States and Guam, an activity that is against his religious beliefs as a Jehovah's Witness. Aviation Concepts was aware of the Charging Party's religious beliefs and initially accommodated him. However, the EEOC contended when a different manager ordered him to perform that duty and he refused, Aviation Concepts terminated him for insubordination. Aviation Concepts agree to pay $51,000 to settle the case and entered into a two-and-a-half year consent decree requiring it to revise its policies regarding reasonable religious accommodations, hire a consultant to monitor compliance of the terms of the decree, provide training on religious discrimination to its employees and provide annual reports to the EEOC.

Cases Involving Harassment based on Religion and National Origin

  • EEOC v. Swift Aviation Group, et al (D. Ariz. No. 2:12-cv-01867-NVW) (resolved on 7/29/13). The EEOC filed suit alleging that Swift Aviation subjected the Charging Party to unlawful harassment because of his national origin, Palestinian/ Turkish (Arab/Middle Eastern) and because of his religion (Islam) in violation of Title VII. The alleged harassment included statements from supervisors such as, "I don't know why we don't just kill all them towel heads," "Can you tell me why you came to work today dressed like you gonna blow up the World Trade Center?" and derogatory jokes about Arabs as well as defacing Charging Party's Quran . The EEOC also alleged that Swift Aviation failed to stop the harassment despite complaints by Charging Party. Ultimately, the EEOC alleged the harassment became intolerable that Charging Party was forced to resign his employment. Swift Aviation agreed to pay $50,000 to settle the case and entered into a two year consent decree requiring it to revise its anti-discrimination policies pertaining to national origin, religious harassment and retaliation, provide training to all employees on the revised policies and to provide reports to the EEOC about future harassment complaints.
  • EEOC v. Rizza Cadillac et al. (N.D. Ill. No. 13-cv-6696) (resolved on 6/24/14). The EEOC alleged that Rizza Cadillac, a car conglomerate in the business of selling cars, violated Title VII by subjecting three Arab Muslim employees to a hostile work environment based upon their national origin and religion. The alleged harassment consisted of Rizza's managers using offensive slurs, such as "terrorist," "sand n----r" and "Hezbollah," and made mocking and insulting references to the Quran and the manner in which Muslims pray. Rizza Cadillac agreed to pay $100,000 to settle the case and entered into a two year consent decree requiring it to train all of its employees regarding national origin and religious harassment as well as retaliation. It also required posting of the notice pertaining to the resolution of the case, and other recordkeeping and reporting requirements.