CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced a voluntary pre-litigation settlement under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 of an employment discrimination claim related to the tragic events of September 11. The settlement was reached between the EEOC and a Wilmington, N.C.-based medical practice that treats patients with kidney disease and provides dialysis treatments.
According to the EEOC, former employee Karen Crisco worked for the Medical Clinic as a licensed practical nurse for over three years. The agency's Charlotte District Office alleged that, during the fall of 2001, Ms. Crisco was subjected to a hostile work environment because of her religion and her romantic relationship with a Muslim man whom her co-workers believed to be of Middle Eastern or Arab descent. The EEOC asserted that Ms. Crisco's hostile work environment included verbal harassment and derogatory remarks related to the events of September 11.
Ms. Crisco alleged that two days before September 11, 2001, she converted to Islam and, a month later, requested that she be allowed to wear a religious head scarf ("Hijab") to work. The EEOC alleged that, after Ms. Crisco wore the head scarf for one day, the medical practice advised her that she had to remove it, stating that her appearance had frightened numerous patients. The EEOC asserted that the Medical Clinic failed to accommodate Ms. Crisco's religious beliefs and constructively discharged her based on her religion.
The Medical Clinic denied any alleged discrimination and stated that it was entering into the settlement only to avoid the costs of litigation with the EEOC and to concentrate on the care of its patients instead. The Clinic also disputed the factual allegations of the EEOC and of Ms. Crisco.
According to the Clinic, Ms. Crisco was not verbally harassed, and numerous frail and elderly patients complained to the practice about the appearance of Ms. Crisco's new head scarf soon after September 11 and during the nation's anthrax scare of fall 2001. The Medical Clinic further alleged that none of the treatment that Ms. Crisco alleges she received rose to the level of a hostile environment or constructive discharge under the law.
"We commend the Medical Clinic for working cooperatively with us to reach a settlement of this unfortunate incident," said EEOC Chair Cari M. Dominguez. "Employers must remain vigilant in ensuring that employees are not subjected to backlash discrimination because they are - or are perceived to be - of a particular religion, ethnicity or national origin."
Karen Crisco, the charging party, said: "I am very pleased with the way the EEOC handled my charge. They investigated it expeditiously, and their efforts resulted in what I believe to be a fair resolution of the charge, particularly the requirement of training for the company. I filed the charge because of principle, not to seek money from my former employer. We are all Americans and a person should not be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs. I hope training on the laws will help to enlighten people who might believe otherwise."
Notwithstanding the parties' differences of opinion, they were able to negotiate a settlement. According to the negotiated settlement, the Clinic will pay $35,000 to Ms. Crisco. In addition to this money, the medical practice has agreed to conduct training on the federal EEO laws, post an employee Notice regarding the requirements of the anti-discrimination laws, and offer Ms. Crisco reinstatement to her position.
Reuben Daniels, Jr., Acting Director of the EEOC's Office of Field Programs, said: "The message here for employers is that absent an undue hardship, an employer is required to accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs and practices of its workforce. The Medical Clinic deserves recognition for its willingness to reach a voluntary and just resolution for this employee, who had been a highly respected and valued member of their medical team until this unfortunate incident."
Representatives of the Medical Clinic stated that they agreed to settle the matter because Ms. Crisco's allegations had taken considerable time away from the practice's mission of caring for its patients.
Further information about the Commission, including fact sheets and other information about 9/11-related backlash discrimination, is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.
In addition to enforcing Title VII, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual harassment or pregnancy) or national origin and protects employees who complain about such offenses from retaliation, the EEOC enforces the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which protects workers age 40 and older from discrimination based on age; the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits gender-based wage discrimination; the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities in the federal sector; Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities in the private sector and state and local governments; and sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991.