Voss Lighting to Pay $82,500 to Settle EEOC Religious Discrimination Lawsuit

Qualified Applicant Denied Job Because His Religious Beliefs Differed From the Company's, Federal Agency Charged

TULSA, Okla. - Voss Electric Co., doing  business as Voss Lighting, will pay $82,500 and furnish company-wide injunctive  relief to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal  Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.  The EEOC had  charged that the Lincoln, Neb.-based supplier of replacement lighting products  violated federal law by refusing to hire a qualified applicant at its Tulsa  location because of his religious beliefs.

According to  the EEOC's suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of  Oklahoma (Civil Case No. 4:12-cv-00330-JED-FHM), Voss Lighting advertised a  vacancy for an "operations supervisor" position at its Tulsa location through  the website of a Tulsa-area church attended by the incumbent supervisor.  Edward Wolfe, who had prior operations management  experience, learned about the vacancy and applied for the position although he  did not himself attend the church.  Voss's  incumbent supervisor met with Wolfe and casually gathered personal information  about his religious beliefs and practices.  Notwithstanding the fact that Wolfe provided  his resume and other job-related information, the supervisor forwarded only  Wolfe's personal religious information to the branch manager and recommended that  he be hired. 

When the branch  manager formally interviewed Wolfe, the majority of the job interview concerned  Wolfe's religious activities and beliefs, the EEOC said.  For instance, Wolfe was asked to identify  every church he has attended over the past several years; where and when he was  "saved" and the circumstances that led up to it; and whether he "would have a  problem" coming into work early to attend Bible study before clocking in.  According to Wolfe, the branch manager expressed dissatisfaction with his  truthful responses to the religious questioning.

At the time  Wolfe was interviewed, Voss had no viable candidates for the position being  filled. Despite being considered qualified for the position, Wolfe was denied  employment on the basis of his religious beliefs, the EEOC charged.  Voss continued to seek applicants and  eventually hired an individual whose religious ideology matched that of the  company and its leadership.

In addition to the $82,500 payment  to Wolfe, the consent decree settling the suit, which must be approved by U.S.  District Court Judge John Dowdell, also requires Voss Lighting to undertake  specified company-wide actions designed to prevent future religious discrimination,  including the posting of an EEOC notice specifically prohibiting employment discrimination  on the basis of religion at all its 21 locations spanning 12 states, re-dissemination  of anti-discrimination policies; periodic reporting to the EEOC of specified  hiring information; religion-neutral job advertising; and the training of management  on religious discrimination.

 "Refusing to hire a  qualified job applicant because his religious beliefs do not comport with those  of the employer's leadership is illegal, even if the for-profit company purports  to have a religious mission or purpose," said Barbara A. Seely, regional  attorney of the EEOC's St. Louis District Office.  "The evidence in this case suggested  widespread religious discrimination throughout the company, not just its  Oklahoma locations.  The EEOC is  optimistic that the corporate-wide remedial actions agreed to by Voss Lighting  will put an end to the role religion plays in its decisions affecting  applicants and employees.  If not, we  will be back in court again."

Voss Lighting,  with over 200 employees, specializes in the sale of lighting products and does  business throughout the United States.

The EEOC St. Louis District Office  is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative  enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Kansas,  Missouri, Nebraska,  Oklahoma and southern Illinois,  with Area Offices in Kansas City and Oklahoma City.

Eliminating barriers in recruitment  and hiring, especially class-based recruitment and hiring practices that  discriminate against racial, ethnic and religious groups, older workers, women,  and people with disabilities, is one of six national priorities identified by  the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).

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