Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Not A Happy Chanukah - EEOC Sues "Menorah House" For Religious Discrimination

A Baca Raton nursing and rehabilitation facility violated federal law by firing an employee over Sabbath-keeping issues, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today. According to the EEOC’s suit (EEOC v. Menorah House, case no. 9:11-cv-80825) filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, that Boca Group LLC, doing business as Menorah House, denied a religious accommodation to Philomene Augustin and fired her because of her religious beliefs. Augustin, who worked at Menorah House as a certified nursing assistant, is a Seventh-Day Adventist, and her Sabbath is from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday evening. Menorah House had accommodated Augustin’s request not to work on her Sabbath for over ten years until management instituted a new policy requiring all employees to work on Saturdays, regardless of their religious beliefs. Such alleged conduct, if proven, would violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious discrimination and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs so long as this does not pose an undue hardship. According to the EEOC, “[t]he law seeks to strike a balance between reasonably accommodating religious beliefs and respecting legitimate business concerns ... [u]nfortunately, in this case the employer refused its legal obligation to pursue a solution that’s fair for all concerned.” The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The agency is asking the court to grant a permanent injunction enjoining Menorah House from further engaging in any employment practice that discriminates against employees because of their religious belief and requiring the company to reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs of employees. The suit also asks the court to order Menorah House to reinstate Augustin, grant back pay, provide compensatory and punitive damages and award any other relief the court deems necessary and proper.