South Carolina Company to Pay $53,000 to Settle EEOC Religious Discrimination Allegations
On June 20, 2018, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that it has reached a settlement with J.C. Witherspoon, a South Carolina-based logging company, over religious discrimination allegations. The EEOC charged that J.C. Witherspoon violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act when it fired a truck driver after refusing to accommodate his religious beliefs.
The plaintiff, Leroy Lawson, has been a practicing Hebrew Pentecostal for 35 years. As a Hebrew Pentecostal, Lawson holds a sincere religious belief that one must not engage in work during the Biblical Sabbath, which begins at sunset on Fridays and ends at sunset on Saturdays. J.C. Witherspoon hired Lawson as a truck driver in March 2012. Soon after he was hired, J.C. Witherspoon required all drivers to work on a Saturday in April 2012. Lawson reluctantly worked that day, but at the end of his shift he told the foreman he could not work any other Saturdays because of his religious beliefs. The company did not ask Lawson to work another Saturday until scheduling him to work on a Saturday in December 2013. Lawson then reminded his foreman of his religious beliefs concerning the Sabbath and refused to work as scheduled. On December 28, 2013, J.C. Witherspoon terminated Lawson for refusing to work on Saturdays.
Title VII requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to sincerely held religious beliefs of employees as long as such accommodation can be made without causing undue hardship to the employer. The EEOC filed suit on Lawson’s behalf, and J.C. Witherspoon has now agreed to settle the litigation and pay Lawson $53,000. Additionally, the company has agreed to a two-year consent decree requiring it to (1) implement a policy to comply with Title VII’s prohibition against religious-based discrimination; (2) train management personnel on Title VII’s reasonable accommodation requirements; and (3) report its accommodation practices to the EEOC.
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