Ozarks Electric Cooperative to Pay $95,000 to Settle EEOC Religious Discrimination Suit

Company Fired Jehovah's Witness Because of Her Religion, Federal Agency Charged

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Ozarks Electric, an electric cooperative located in Fayetteville and Springdale, Ark., will pay $95,000 to a former employee and furnish other relief to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. 

The EEOC's suit (Civil Action No. 12-5014), filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, Fayetteville Division, charged that Ozarks failed to provide an employee with a reasonable religious accommodation and then fired her because of her religious beliefs.  Specifically, the EEOC alleged that Ozarks denied the employee a requested day off to attend a Jehovah's Witness convention and then terminated her when she chose to attend the convention rather than report to work.

Religious discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. Ozarks denied that it engaged in any unlawful employment practices or that it otherwise violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In addition to the monetary relief, the consent decree settling the suit, approved by U. S. District Judge Jimm Larry Hendren, requires Ozarks to modify its leave policy to include an appeals process for employees who believe they are being unfairly denied a religious accommodation; provide training to its personnel on religious discrimination; submit reports to EEOC during the two-year period that the consent decree is in effect; and post a notice reinforcing the company's policies on Title VII and its procedures for reporting and preventing discrimination in the workplace.

"Employees are faced with many choices throughout their careers, but having to choose between their religion and their work should never be one of those choices," Regional Attorney Faye Williams of the EEOC's Memphis District Office said.  "The EEOC is pleased that the parties were able to work together to resolve this matter to the benefit of all." 

Ozarks Electric is a not-for-profit corporation that supplies electric power to its members in Northwest Arkansas and Northeast Oklahoma.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.  Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.