Frito-Lay, Inc., a Plano, Texas-based subsidiary of PepsiCo, recently agreed to pay $50,000 to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The EEOC alleged Frito-Lay violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it fired a newly promoted route sales representative because he could not train for his position on Saturdays due to his religious beliefs. The employee completed approximately five weeks of training without having to train on Saturdays. However, despite knowing about his Seventh-day Adventist religious beliefs, Frito-Lay scheduled him to train on Saturdays and fired him after he failed to report to training on two consecutive Saturdays.
In addition to the $50,000 penalty, the company and the EEOC entered into a three-year consent decree approved by the federal court that requires Frito-Lay to provide specialized training on reasonable accommodation processes to human resources personnel, managers, and employees; requires all accommodation requests to be reviewed and decided by PepsiCo regional staff with specialized knowledge of Title VII; requires Frito-Lay to report requests for religious accommodations, and the resolution of these requests, to the EEOC. Of course, having the EEOC review these over a three-year period puts pressure on the company to handle them well and increases the risk of additional litigation with the EEOC if the company does not do what the EEOC expects.
This case highlights the importance of establishing company policies and procedures for acknowledging, reviewing, and responding to accommodation requests based on either religion or disability. If the Frito-Lay employee’s request had been handled by trained human resources or legal employees, the lawsuit and settlement may have been avoided. This case is a strong reminder of the importance of making reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs and the risks that can be avoided by company practices that properly evaluate those requests and do not leave them in the hands of individual supervisors.