Dealership Failed to Accommodate Employee’s Request to Observe Sabbath
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Elk Grove car dealership Maita Chevrolet violated federal law when its management failed to accommodate a Seventh-Day Adventist employee, and instead harassed, disciplined, and discharged him because of his religion, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced in a federal lawsuit filed today,
According to the EEOC’s investigation, Anthony Okon, a Nigerian immigrant and a Seventh-Day Adventist, worked for Maita Chevrolet as a car salesman from April 2005 to 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 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 alleges that Okon was harassed, denied work on Sundays, and ultimately disciplined and discharged for taking leave to observe his Sabbath.
“It is a terrible thing to be asked to choose between practicing your faith and supporting your family,” stated Okon. “I was recognized for my customer service and teamwork, and I was willing to work any other time. No matter how I tried to explain my religion, the company told me that they could make no exceptions, and everyone had to be available for work every day.”
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, and seeks monetary damages on behalf of Okon, training on anti-discrimination laws, and other steps to prevent future discrimination.
EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo said, “Where there is a conflict between an employee’s religious beliefs and work rules, the law mandates that an employer make a sincere effort to accommodate those beliefs. Maita Chevrolet’s refusal to explore any workable solutions with Mr. Okon was not only illegal but short-sighted. Why would anyone treat a valuable, high-performing employee this way?”
EEOC San Francisco District Director Michael Baldonado said “One of the core tenets of this country is religious freedom. Workers have the right to work in an environment free from hostility, intimidation and ridicule of their religious beliefs.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.