Employer Punished Human Resources Worker for Religious Beliefs, Federal Agency Charges
BOSTON - Baystate Medical Center, a Massachusetts corporation based in Springfield, violated federal law when it refused to effectively accommodate an employee's religious beliefs and fired her because of her religion and her complaints that she was being discriminated against, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to EEOC's complaint, Baystate Medical Center has, since September 2015, required all employees to receive an annual flu vaccination. An employee may request an exemption to the vaccine requirement based on religious beliefs, but the employer requires those workers to wear a mask while on the job. EEOC alleged that Stephanie Clarke, a recruiter in Baystate's human resources department, initially wore the mask when she declined the flu shot because of her religious beliefs. When job applicants complained to Clarke that they could not understand her when she spoke to them while wearing the mask, Clarke removed the mask in order to be heard, EEOC said. According to the complaint, Clarke then asked her employer to work with her to find an alternative accommodation that would permit her to honor her religious beliefs while effectively performing her job. Instead, Baystate placed Clarke on indefinite, unpaid leave. When Clarke complained and sought an alternative accommodation to the policy, Baystate terminated her, EEOC said.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to make a reasonable accommodation for an employee's sincerely held religious beliefs as long as doing so does not pose an undue hardship on the employer. EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Springfield Division (EEOC v. Baystate Medical Center, Inc., d/b/a Baystate Health, Civil Action No. 3:16-cv-30086) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief.
"Federal law requires employers to fairly balance an employee's right to practice his or her religion and the operation of the business," said Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for EEOC's New York District Office. "For an accommodation to be meaningful under Title VII, it both must respect the employee's religious beliefs and permit her to do her job effectively."
EEOC's New York district director, Kevin Berry, added, "Employees have the right to oppose conduct they reasonably believe violates the law, without fear of retaliation. A decision to end the employment relationship - either through termination or forced resignation - because the employee has complained about religious discrimination runs afoul of the statute's clear requirements."
EEOC's New York District Office oversees New York, Northern New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the commission is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.