Hospital Refused to Allow Male Nurse to Wear Long Hair as Part of Religious Practice, Federal Agency Charged
SAN JUAN , Puerto Rico – Hospital Español Auxilio Mutuo de Puerto Rico, Inc. , a San Juan hospital, will enter into a three-year consent decree and pay $50,000 to resolve a religious discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
The EEOC’s lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in San Juan, (EEOC v. Hospital Auxilio Mutuo, Case No. 09-1797 [DRD]), charged that the hospital refused to accommodate the religious beliefs of Javier Gonzalez-Torres, a registered nurse. Gonzalez-Torres told the hospital that he could not cut his hair because of his religion, Santeria. The hospital refused to allow him to wear his hair long, even though the hospital has a policy allowing female employees to wear their hair any length, the EEOC said. Further, the EEOC said, the hospital retaliated against Gonzalez-Torres by firing him after he complained about the discrimination.
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 after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to monetary damages of $50,000, the three-year consent decree resolving the case includes injunctive relief enjoining the hospital from engaging in religious discrimination; requires the posting of a notice about the settlement; and requires the hospital to conduct training and to report information about religious discrimination complaints it receives to the EEOC for monitoring.
“Employers must reasonably accommodate employees’ religious beliefs and practices, and there is no gender distinction for that,” said EEOC Acting Regional Attorney Michael O’Brien. “Employers must treat all employees equally, regardless of their religious beliefs.”
“The law requires employers to take appropriate steps to assure that employees who complain of discrimination are not retaliated against,” said EEOC Acting Supervisory Trial Attorney Michael J. Farrell. “Employees must feel free to communicate their concerns about discrimination without fear that they will lose their job.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov .