Employee Fired After Refusing to Violate her Religious Beliefs, Federal Agency Charges
ABILENE -- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed a lawsuit against Senior Living Properties, L.L.C., d/b/a Sweetwater Healthcare Center, a company that owns 35 senior assisted living facilities in Texas, charging that the company refused to accommodate the religious beliefs of a dietary supervisor. Sweetwater Healthcare Center fired the employee after she told a new company administrator that her religious observances precluded her from working on Sundays.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, (Civil Action No. 1:11-cv-00192-C), filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Abilene Division, for most of her three-plus years of employment with Sweetwater Healthcare Center, Amanda Spalding was never forced to work on a Sunday. During this time, Spalding and co-workers entered into voluntary arrangements with the knowledge of upper management, whereby she worked extra shifts during the week so that she would be able to honor her religious beliefs on Sundays. This work schedule was respected by the company until it hired a new administrator, who told Spalding that she would have to be available to work on Sundays. The fired employee recounts that the administrator was dismissive of her beliefs and unwilling to accommodate her request, telling her that God would excuse her since she worked in the healthcare field. The employee was given an ultimatum to report on Sundays or lose her job.
“Requiring an employee to choose between her faith and a job that she is dedicated to is not only bad faith, it is illegal,” said Devika Seth, senior trial attorney for the EEOC’s Dallas District Office. “History showed that this company could accommodate her religious beliefs; there was no need for a new manager to suddenly and intolerantly demand that she choose between her ability to provide income for her family and a commitment to her religious beliefs.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits religious discrimination and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ sincerely held religious beliefs as long as this does not pose an undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit after investigating the case, finding reasonable cause to believe that the alleged discrimination took place, and first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement. The EEOC seeks back pay, out-of-pocket expenses, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief to ensure that no further discrimination occurs.
“When there would be no undue hardship caused to a business by allowing an employee to practice his or her faith, the boss should not threaten or isolate the worker,” said Robert A. Canino, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Dallas District Office. “We are confident that any jury in this country that considers these issues will reinforce our efforts to protect the religious beliefs of working folks that need not be abandoned in order to earn a living.”
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.