The EEOC recently obtained a judgment and injunctive relief against a North Texas healthcare provider for religious discrimination and retaliation.
The facts are troubling. The owner of the healthcare practice was Christian. However, some of employees were not. And even those employees who were practicing Christians were not all comfortable being forced to participate in religious meetings at work.
The employer held daily mandatory meetings which all employees had to attend. These meetings typically began with a reading or study of Bible verses and a discussion of how religious principles could be related to or applied to the personal lives of the employees.
A Buddhist employee asked to be excused from participating in the morning meetings. The employer denied this request. It fired her after she continued to ask for this accommodation for her own personal religious beliefs.
Another employee told the owner it was wrong to require employees to attend meetings at which a specific religion was discussed in such detail. A week later, she got demoted. She (and other staff) were told she was demoted because she was not following Christ and was not seeing the owner’s vision. She had been told to be “more Godly” and to “wash the feet” of others. This employee was later fired.
Another employee was talked to about his personal life and told he should attend pre-marital counseling because he was living with his girlfriend. When the employee chose not to attend pre-marital counseling, he was fired.
Because Title VII protects employees from discrimination based on religion, the EEOC sued. It argued the employer violated Title VII in several ways. First, the employer was trying to force conformity with its religious beliefs. The employer denied a reasonable accommodation to employees who requested to be excused from the mandatory meetings to accommodate their own sincerely held religious beliefs.
Second, the employees were subjected to harassment and a hostile work environment based on religious beliefs because the employer was trying to force the employees to conform to the employer’s religious beliefs.
And finally, the EEOC contended that the employer retaliated by firing employees who objected to their forced participation in religious activities.
These facts seem to demonstrate a very blatant case of religious discrimination. The owners seem to have forgotten that they cannot impose their own personal religious beliefs upon the company’s employees. Employees may work without being forced to adopt the religious beliefs of their employer.
The EEOC sued in 2017. After close to four years and a detour through the owner’s bankruptcy, the EEOC finally got this judgment for $375,000 plus injunctive relief. The injunctive relief requires the employer to refrain (1) discriminating against employees, including but not limited to terminating an employee when the termination is based on religion, (2) subjecting an employee to a hostile work environment, and (3) refusing to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious belief or practice. The employer must also train employees on Title VII and the obligation to prohibit religious based discrimination.
The parties entered into this agreed Final Judgment just a week before the case was set to go to trial. The EEOC persevered over these four years and got justice for these employees. Kudos to the EEOC for its hard work—which just might protect future employees from further religious discrimination.