Major Store Unlawfully Fired Jehovah’s Witness for Refusing to Wear Santa Garb, Federal Agency Charged
RALEIGH , N.C. – Belk, Inc. will pay $55,000 and furnish other relief to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The EEOC had charged in its lawsuit that Belk violated federal law when it failed to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs and then fired her because of her religion.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, during the 2008 Christmas holiday season, Belk, Inc. required Myra Jones-Abid, who worked at Belk’s Crabtree Valley Mall store in Raleigh, to wear a Santa hat and apron. Jones-Abid’s religion, Jehovah’s Witnesses, prohibits her from recognizing holidays, and therefore she declined to wear the holiday garb. On November 27, 2008, Belk terminated Jones-Abid for refusing to wear the apparel.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to attempt to make reasonable accommodations to sincerely held religious beliefs of employees as long as this poses no undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina (EEOC v. Belk, Inc., Civil Action No. 5:10-CV-00300) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to paying monetary relief to Jones-Abid, the settlement requires Belk to take other actions, including providing annual training on religious discrimination to all of its managers and supervisors at the store where Jones-Abid worked. In addition, Belk must post there a notice on employees’ rights under federal anti-discrimination laws and provide periodic reports to the EEOC on actions taken in response to employees who have requested religious accommodations.
“No employee should be forced to choose between her faith and her job,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District, which includes the EEOC’s Raleigh Area Office, where the charge was filed. “ This case demonstrates the EEOC’s commitment to combat religious discrimination in the workplace.”
According to company information, Charlotte, N.C.-headquartered Belk, Inc. is the nation’s largest privately owned mainline department store company, with more than 300 fashion department stores in 16 contiguous Southern states.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.