Leading Senior Assisted Living Company Settles Religious Discrimination Suit with EEOC

by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
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Employee Fired After Refusing to Violate Religious Beliefs, Federal Agency Charged

ABILENE, Texas - Senior Living Properties, LLC, which owns 35 senior assisted living facilities in Texas, will pay $42,500 and furnish extensive injunctive relief to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The EEOC had charged the company with denying a religious accommodation to an employee.

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Amanda Spalding, dietary services manager at the company's Sweetwater Healthcare Center in Sweetwater, Texas, sought to be excused from working on Sundays based on religious observances consistent with her Christian faith. For most of her over three years of employment with Sweetwater, Spalding was not required to work on a Sunday. This work schedule was respected by the company until it hired a new administrator, Peggy Scruggs. According to the EEOC, after Scruggs was hired, she told Spalding in no uncertain terms that she would have to be available to work on Sundays, telling her that God would her excuse her from this religious restriction because she worked in the health care field. The EEOC charged that Scruggs dismissed Spalding's requests that she continue to refrain from working on Sundays and told her that if she would not work on Sundays, "there's the door."

"Requiring an employee to choose between her faith and a job to which she is dedicated is not only ill-advised management, but illegal," said Devika Seth, senior trial attorney for the EEOC's Dallas District Office. "We hope this settlement presents an example of how matters involving religious beliefs can be better addressed in the workplace."

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 (Civil Action No. 1:11-CV-192-C) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Abilene Division after investigating the case, finding reasonable cause to believe that the alleged discrimination took place, and first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement.

"An employee's religious beliefs should never be dismissively disregarded," noted Robert A. Canino, regional attorney for the Dallas District Office. "Under the law, it is important for an employer examine whether a conflict between a work requirement and the faith-based practice of an individual can be resolved."

In addition to the monetary relief, the consent decree signed by U.S. District Judge Sam R. Cummings on March 15, 2013 requires the company to:

  • amend its written anti-discrimination policy to include language regarding Title VII's prohibition on religious discrimination and a provision regarding legal obligations for an employer to provide reasonable accommodations to employees based on their religious belief, including beliefs necessitating not working on a particular day or days of the week;
  • conduct annual training for three years on the law against religious discrimination in the workplace, an employee's right to have his/her religious beliefs accommodated in the workplace, the types of accommodations that may be granted to employees due to their religious beliefs and the proper procedure for investigating complaints; and
  • post an anti-discrimination policy for five years at its corporate headquarters in Grapevine, Texas, and at its facility in Sweetwater, Texas.

EEOC Dallas District Director Janet Elizondo added, "Title VII is an important law that was enacted to protect civil rights, including freedom of religion to the extent it can be accommodated in the workplace. We are glad that this investigation has led to such a constructive result."

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) | Attorney Advertising

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