Federal Agency Alleges Health System Withdrew Job Offer From Employee Who Requested Religious Accommodation
MINNEAPOLIS - North Memorial Health Care, an independent health system based in Robbinsdale, Minn., violated federal law when it withdrew a job offer made to an applicant after she requested a religious accommodation, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to EEOC's lawsuit, North Memorial offered Emily Sure-Ondara a position as a registered nurse. Sure-Ondara, a Seventh-Day Adventist, then requested a schedule that accommodated her religious practices. North Memorial determined it would not grant the requested accommodation. Sure-Ondara told North Memorial that she was willing to work without the accommodation, but North Memorial withdrew her job offer anyway.
Julianne Bowman, director of the federal agency's Chicago District, said that in the EEOC's pre-suit administrative investigation, the agency learned that North Memorial specific-ally referenced the request for accommodation in denying Sure-Ondara employment. After the investigation, the agency attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process, but was unable to do so.
The conduct alleged in EEOC's lawsuit violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees and job applicants from retaliation when they engage in activities protected under the law, such as requesting an accommodation for religious reasons. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. North Memorial Health Care, Civil Action No. 15-cv-3675), seeks damages for Sure-Ondara as well as injunctive relief barring retaliation against employees or job applicants who request religious accommodations.
"Federal law protects the right of job applicants or employees to request a religious accommodation without fear that the request will lead to retaliation," said John Hendrickson, regional attorney for EEOC's Chicago District. "While Title VII allows employers to reject an accommodation request if certain circumstances are met, it is unlawful for an employer to take action against the employee based on such a request."
Jean P. Kamp, the Chicago District's associate regional attorney, added, "Job applicants and employees may request a religious accommodation at any time. Applicants are not required to notify a potential employer about an accommodation issue before starting a job, though that's what Ms. Sure-Ondara did. This lawsuit is about what happened next. We plan to show North Memorial's decision to withdraw the job offer after Sure-Ondara's request was retaliatory and unlawful."
According to its website, https://www.northmemorial.com/, North Memorial operates hospitals, clinics and other related medical services in the Twin Cities area.
EEOC's Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. The EEOC's legal team in its Minneapolis Area Office will conduct this litigation under the management of the agency's Chicago District Office.
EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.