Rental Company Fired Employee Over Sabbath Issue, Federal Agency Charged
WASHINGTON – The Rent-A-Center store on Alabama Avenue in Washington, D.C. violated federal law when it failed to accommodate a store manager’s religious beliefs and then fired him because of his religion, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.
According to the EEOC’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (EEOC v. Rent-A-Center, Inc., Civil Action No. 1:11-cv-01170), Ferdinand Charles, who worked as a store manager for Rent-A-Center, is a Seventh-Day Adventist. Around June 2006, Charles decided to reaffirm and strictly practice his faith, which includes a religious tenet that he not work on his Sabbath, Saturday, before sundown. At that time, in June 2006, Charles was manager of Rent-A-Center’s Seat Pleasant, Md., store. Charles requested that he be excused from working on Saturdays before sundown as a religious accommodation, but his request was denied. Thereafter, Charles was transferred to the company’s Alabama Avenue location in the District of Columbia, and was granted the religious accommodation he had requested. For approximately three months Charles did not work on Saturdays due to his religious beliefs. However, after the company realigned its store districts around December 2006, Charles was again told that he would have to work on Saturdays. When Charles refused due to his religious beliefs, Rent-A-Center discharged him.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to sincerely held religious beliefs of employees as long as doing so poses no undue hardship on the employer. The EEOC filed suit only after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement with Rent-A-Center. The EEOC seeks back pay, reinstatement, compensatory damages and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief.
“Employers must remember their duty to provide an accommodation to the sincerely held religious beliefs of its employees and applicants,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District. “An employee should not be forced to choose between his faith and his job. This case demonstrates the EEOC’s commitment to fighting religious discrimination in the workplace.”
According to company information, Rent-A-Center, Inc., America’s largest chain of rent-to-own stores, is headquartered in Plano, Texas, and employs more than 18,000 people.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.