Agency Obtains $158,000 for Seventh-day Adventist Employee Denied Sabbath Observance
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Elk Grove car dealership Maita Chevrolet has agreed to pay $158,000 and to implement preventive measures to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's investigation, Maita failed to accommodate the religious practice of a Seventh-day Adventist employee, and instead harassed, disciplined and discharged him because of his religion. Anthony Okon, a Nigerian immigrant and a Seventh-day Adventist, worked for Maita Chevrolet as a car salesman from April 2005 until he was discharged in May 2007. A key tenet of his faith is to observe the Sabbath by refraining from secular work from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. The EEOC charged that the company persistently scheduled him to work shifts during his Sabbath despite numerous requests from Okon and his pastor explaining the requirements of their religion. In addition, the EEOC alleged that Okon was harassed, denied work on Sundays, and ultimately disciplined and discharged for taking leave to observe his Sabbath.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on religion and requires employers to accommodate the sincere religious beliefs or practices of employees unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the business. After first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through conciliation, the EEOC filed the lawsuit (EEOC v. Maita Chevrolet Geo, No. CV11-4815-JSC) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Alan Reinach of the Church State Council also represented Okon, who intervened in the lawsuit.
Under the court-approved consent decree settling the suit, Maita will revise its personnel policy manual concerning religious accommodation; train its managers, supervisors and human resources personnel on this topic; and report to the EEOC all requests for religious accommodation or complaints of religious discrimination.
"The EEOC's investigation found that Maita supervisors not only failed to accommodate Mr. Okon's religious practice, but answered his requests with harassment, discipline, and ultimately discharge," said EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo. "Employers must recognize the value of diversity in their workforce, including religious diversity, and not harass or discriminate against those of different faiths or religious practices."
EEOC San Francisco District Director Michael Baldonado commented, "The law protects the religious observances, practices, and beliefs of all employees, and requires reasonable accommodation by employers. Once employers understand that obligation, a solution that meets the needs of both the company and the employee can usually be found."
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.