Company Refused to Hire Woman as Temp Worker Because Her Religion Forbade Her to Wear Trousers, Federal Agency Charges
COLUMBIA, S.C. - Akebono Brake Corporation, a Michigan-based company that designs and manufactures automotive brake components, violated federal law when it refused to hire a temporary laborer because of her religion, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today. The federal agency further charged that the company discriminatorily interfered with the temporary laborer's employment opportunities with her direct employer, a temporary labor service provider (TLSP).
According to EEOC's suit, Clintoria Burnett is an observant member of the Apostolic Faith Church of God and True Holiness, a Pentecostal Christian denomination. Burnett holds the religious belief that she cannot wear pants because she is a woman, and that she is commanded to wear skirts or dresses. Burnett was hired by the TLSP in or around October 2014. The TLSP extended to Burnett an offer of employment to work at Akebono's West Columbia, S.C., facility for the benefit of Akebono. While the TLSP had the authority to recruit and hire temporary laborers for placement at Akebono's facility under the terms of a staffing agreement between the two entities, Akebono maintained the ultimate authority to deny hire to any employee recruited by the TLSP. Burnett accepted the TLSP's offer of employment.
Akebono maintained a dress code policy requiring employees to wear pants while at Akebono's facility. Ultimately, Akebono directed the TLSP not to hire Burnett because of her religious belief. Akebono did not consider any potential religious accommodations. Based on Akebono's directive, the TLSP withdrew Burnett's offer of employment.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from refusing to hire people because of their religion, and requires employers to make an effort to reasonably accommodate sincerely held religious beliefs. EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Columbia Division (EEOC v. Akebono Brake Corporation, Civil Action No. 3:16-cv-03545-CMC-SVH) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and instatement or front pay. The complaint also seeks injunctive relief.
"Under federal law, employers have an obligation to attempt a fair balance between an employee's right to practice his or her religion and the operation of their business," said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for EEOC's Charlotte District Office. "This case demonstrates EEOC's commitment to fighting religious discrimination in the workplace."
As a part of its Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP), the agency has stated its commitment to monitoring trends and developments in the law, workplace practices and labor force demographics. EEOC's updated SEP specifically includes a focus on the temporary labor force. More information about EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.
EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination. The agency recently released its 2017-2021 Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).