Versant Supply Chain and AT&T to Pay $150,000 to Settle EEOC Religious Discrimination Suit

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

 Companies Discriminated Against Employees by Requiring Them to Remove Religious Headwear, Federal Agency Charged

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Versant Supply Chain, Inc. and AT&T Services, Inc. have agreed to pay $150,000 and furnish other relief to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.

The EEOC charged that the Memphis-based logistics company and the Dallas-based communi­cations, media, entertainment and technology company subjected employees to religious discrimin­a­tion, which included failing to grant employees reasonable accommodations to company dress codes.

According to the EEOC's suit, Versant and AT&T enforced policies that prohibit employees from wearing any head coverings (except knit caps) and failed to consider exceptions for employees who wear head coverings for religious reasons, such as hijabs. Under these policies, Versant and AT&T required Versant employees assigned to work in AT&T's warehouse to remove their hijabs before work. If an employee refused to remove her hijab, Versant and AT&T would not allow her to work in AT&T's warehouse.

Such conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimin­ation on the basis of religion. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, Western Division (EEOC v. Versant Supply Chain, Inc. and AT&T Services, Inc., Civil Action No. 2:18-cv-02670) after first attempting to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The agency's Memphis District Office investigated the charge of discrimination.

A two-year consent decree settling the suit was signed by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas L. Parker on April 27, 2020. In addition to paying $150,000 in monetary relief to the discrimination victims, the decree prohibits Versant and AT&T from refusing to allow employees to wear religious head cover­ings in the future, unless doing so would create an undue hardship. The companies have also agreed to develop or modify their religious accommodation and dress code policies. Versant has agreed to develop and implement an internal policy that outlines how it will address future employee complaints of religious discrimination against client companies. Both companies will provide training to manager­ial and non-managerial employees on religious discrimination and reasonable accommo­dation require­ments under Title VII.

"The fact that an employee's religious headwear conflicts with an employer's dress code policy is no defense to a Title VII religious discrimination claim," said Faye Williams, regional attorney for the EEOC's Memphis District Office, which has juris­diction over Arkansas, Tennessee, and portions of Mississippi. "Employers must be flexible and allow employees with sincerely held religious beliefs to deviate from the dress code if the requests do not pose an undue hardship. We commend Versant and AT&T for changing their policies to comply with the law."

Delner Franklin-Thomas, district director of the EEOC's Memphis District Office, added, "The truth is that we live in a society with an ever-increasing religiously diverse workforce. We encourage employers to be willing to address the reasonable religious requests of their employees."

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More 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.

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