EEOC Prevails in Jury Verdict and Subsequent Appeal for Two Customer Service Technicians Fired for Attending Jehovah’s Witness Convention
JONESBORO, Ark. – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced that a Satisfaction of Judgment was entered in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Jonesboro Division, in a religious discrimination lawsuit brought by the federal agency against communications giant AT&T, Inc. on behalf of two male customer service technicians who were suspended and fired for attending a Jehovah’s Witnesses Convention. AT&T paid a total of $1,307,597 pursuant to the judgments entered in the case.
In October 2007, a jury of nine women and three men awarded the two former employees, Jose Gonzalez and Glenn Owen (brothers-in-law), $296,000 in back pay and $460,000 in compensatory damages under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. During the four-day trial, the jury heard evidence that both men had submitted written requests to their manager in January 2005 for one day of leave to attend a religious observance that was scheduled for Friday July 15 to Sunday July 17, 2005. Both men testified that they had sincerely held religious beliefs that required them to attend the Jehovah’s Witness convention each year. Both men had attended the convention every year throughout their employment with AT&T. Gonzalez worked at the company for more than eight years and Owen was employed there for nearly six years.
The case was tried in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Jonesboro Division (Case No. 3:06-cv-00176), before Judge Leon Holmes. AT&T appealed the jury verdict to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Eighth Circuit sided with the EEOC and upheld the jury verdict. The amount awarded by the jury at trial grew to $1,307,597 with the inclusion of interest and front pay. Judge Holmes granted the EEOC’s request for an injunction prohibiting AT&T from engaging in any employment practice which discriminates on the basis of religion.
“These two employees never should have had to choose between their jobs and their sincerely held religious beliefs,” said EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru. “With increased religious diversity in the workplace, employers need to be extra vigilant in guarding against discrimination based on religion.”
Title VII 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.
EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney William A. Cash, Jr., who tried the case with agency attorney Darin Tuggle, said, “These were two outstanding employees who simply should have been allowed to attend the Jehovah’s Witnesses Convention as they had done during their employment with AT&T. When employers or management officials attempt to make an example out of employees by discriminating against them, as was done in this case, there is a high price to pay.”
EEOC Regional Attorney Faye A. Williams of the agency’s Memphis District Office, which has jurisdiction for Arkansas, remarked, “We are pleased that this matter is now over and these gentlemen may now move forward with their lives. These men took a stand against a large employer for their sincerely held religious beliefs, and justice has prevailed.”
According to company information, AT&T is the largest provider of both local and long distance telephone services, DSL Internet access and wireless service in the United States, with 74.9 million wireless customers and more than 150 million total customers.
Religious discrimination charge filings (allegations) reported to EEOC offices nationwide have substantially increased from 1,388 in Fiscal Year 1992 to 3,283 in FY 2008.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.
This page was last modified on July 31, 2009.
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