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Monday, August 10, 2009

ATT Gets Religion after Million Dollar Verdict

ATT Gets Religion after Million Dollar Verdict








Repirint O&A News 08/09/09
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced that a Satisfaction of Judgment in the amount of $1,307,597 was entered in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in a religious discrimination lawsuit brought by the EEOC against AT&T, Inc. on behalf of two male customer service technicians who were suspended and fired for attending a Jehovah’s Witnesses Convention.

In October 2007, a jury 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.

AT&T appealed the jury verdict to the 8th Circuit who 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. Additionally, the Judge enter 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.”

Religious discrimination charges reported to EEOC offices nationwide have substantially increased to 3,283 in 2008 and in that same year the EEOC recovered $7.5 million in monetary benefits for charging parties and other aggrieved individuals.

Practical Counsel: Under Title VII employers must reasonably accommodate employees' sincerely held religious practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. A reasonable religious accommodation is any adjustment to the work environment that will allow the employee to practice his religion. An employer might accommodate an employee's religious beliefs or practices by allowing: flexible scheduling, voluntary substitutions or swaps, job reassignments and lateral transfers, modification of grooming requirements and other workplace practices, policies and/or procedures. More information at http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/qanda_religion.html
Religious Discrimination is a hot button issue for the EEOC. My advice is to have your handbook policy and be in an “accommodating” mood when approached by your employee.

Tommy Eden is a Lee County native, an attorney with the local office of Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at teden@constangy.com or 334-246-2901. Blog at www.alabamaatwork.com