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Muslim Denied Time Off for Pilgrimage to Mecca, Federal Agency Charged

NASHVILLE -- Southern Hills Medical Center will pay $70,000 and provide other relief to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

The EEOC’s suit (No. 3:07-cv-00976, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee) had charged that Southern Hills refused to allow Wali Telwar, a practicing Muslim, to use his earned vacation time to make his pilgrimage to Mecca, which is required by his faith. Instead of accommo­dating his request for extended leave, the hospital insisted that Telwar either work as scheduled or resign his position and reapply. Telwar resigned. The EEOC claims that when Telwar returned from his pilgrimage and reapplied to work at Southern Hills, he was not rehired.

Refusing to accommodate a sincerely held religious belief violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement.

Besides providing monetary relief, the two-year consent decree settling the suit, signed by Senior District Judge Thomas A. Wiseman, Jr. on April 27, 2009, enjoins Southern Hills Medical Center from refusing to accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs of an employee or retaliating against any employee for requesting a religious accommodation. The decree also mandates a number of record-keeping, posting and reporting requirements on religious accommo­dations.

“Demanding that an employee choose between his job and a mandatory tenet of his faith is a violation of federal law,” said Faye Williams, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Memphis District Office, which has jurisdiction over Tennessee, Arkansas, and 17 counties in northern Mississippi. “This settlement demonstrates the Commission’s commitment to eradi­cating religious discrimination in the workplace, and the hospital’s commitment to ensuring that similar issues do not reoccur in the future.”

Chad Ross, Esq., of King-Solomon, Attorneys at Law, Nashville, also represented Mr. Telwar.

According to its web site, Southern Hills Medical Center is a 120-bed hospital serving the communities of southern Davidson, northern Rutherford and Williamson counties in Middle Tennessee since 1979.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing the nation's laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at