Has The EEOC Found Another Easy Target?

“Religious discrimination,” I noted in my post of September 14th, “formerly a backwater of discrimination law, has shot to the forefront in recent years.   Public policy and the expansion of the reach of Title VII meet claims of religious discrimination.   The political/legal struggles will likely take a while to resolve, if at all.”  I said that “the EEOC has decidedly not abandoned its efforts to pursue claims of employment discrimination based upon religion.”

Symbols, Religions, Faith, Christianity

I just noticed a case filed by the EEOC in August that rivals the EEOC’s let’s-sue-medical-folks–for-ADA-violations penchant.  This time the suit is based upon religious discrimination under Title VII, which can be likened to the ADA in that an employer must accommodate religious beliefs or practices if that can be done without undue burden. And this time the target is the National Federation of the Blind.

The EEOC claims that a bookkeeper for the Federation was told that he had to work Saturdays. Being a Hebrew Pentecostal, who cannot work from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, he asked instead to be permitted the accommodation of working Sundays or late on week nights other than Fridays.  He was fired.

An EEOC attorney said that “Most religious accommodations are not unduly costly, such as allowing an employee to switch his schedule to observe his Sabbath.  No employee should be forced to choose between earning a living and following the dictates of his faith.”  This is, of course, true, and all employers must know this.

But the EEOC nonetheless seems to find those cases where a lawsuit can make a big PR splash.   It’s website states that “The National Federation of the Blind is the only organization that believes in the full capacity of blind people, and has the power, influence, diversity, and determination to help transform our dreams into reality. … We are bound together by our belief that the blind are capable of achieving our dreams and living the lives we want, and by the love and respect we have for one another and for all blind Americans.”

That the EEOC is suing the Federation sounds a little like the EEOC suing a hospital and tut-tutting that “One would expect that a hospital, of all places, would show understanding and fairness toward an employee who had recently had emergency surgery.”   As I wrote just yesterday, “showing ‘understanding and fairness’ – has a nice heroic, PR ring to it if you are the EEOC and looking to hit the jackpot.”

Takeaway: As with the ADA, “accommodation” is the key.  Remember this, and also remember that the EEOC has a penchant for reaching for the “low hanging fruit” of suing for discrimination people and agencies that are devoted to noble causes like medical care and social welfare, and snickering at the seeming hypocrisy.


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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]