July 16, 2015

Adventist Awarded $22,000 in Sabbath Case at Dunkin’ Donuts

, news editor, Adventist Review

A franchisee of the Dunkin’ Donuts restaurant chain will pay $22,000 and take other measures to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit over its decision to rescind a job offer to a Seventh-day Adventist believer who declined to work on a Friday night, the U.S. government agency that filed the lawsuit announced Wednesday.

The agency, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said Adventist believer Darrell Littrell applied at a Citi Brands manufacturing facility in Arden, North Carolina, in December 2012, and that the plant manager offered him the job of doughnut maker on Jan. 3, 2013, saying he could start the next day, Friday, at 3 p.m.

“Littrell responded that he could not start work on Friday afternoon because of his faith, the agency said in a statement July 15. “The plant manager responded by revoking Littrell’s job offer.”

The agency, which filed the lawsuit on Sept. 11, 2014, said Littrell “holds the sincere religious belief that he cannot work on his Sabbath, which runs from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday.”

In addition to paying $22,000 in damages to Littrell, Citi Brands has agreed not to discriminate on the basis of religion in the future by implementing a policy regarding religious accommodation, conducting annual training for all employees, and reporting religious accommodation requests to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Citi Brands also will post a copy of its policy on religious accommodation in all of its North Carolina restaurants and other facilities, the commission said.

The commission, which is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of religion, race, sex, and other factors, sued the franchisee under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The federal law prohibits employers from refusing to hire people because of their religion, and it requires employers to make an effort at a reasonable accommodation for sincerely held religious beliefs.

The commission has been particularly sensitive in recent years to claims of discrimination based on employees’ principles for observing a day of worship. The commission chair from 2001-2006 was Cari M. Dominguez, a Seventh-day Adventist and member of the Spencerville Adventist Church in Maryland.

The commission said it pursued legal action against the Dunkin' Donuts franchisee in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Asheville Division, after failing to reach a voluntary settlement. The lawsuit had sought back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages for Littrell.

A number of Seventh-day Adventist employees have found themselves before U.S. judges in an attempt to protect their Sabbath beliefs over the years. Just last month, a U.S. federal judge ruled that Mini Price Storage, a chain of self-storage businesses based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, fired Adventist employee Sean Mohammed in 2011 in retaliation for his refusal to work on Sabbath and awarded him more than $150,000 in back pay.

In April, three retired federal government employees and Adventists who worked as ushers for the Washington Nationals went to court on accusations that the baseball team changed its work policy to prevent them from skipping games between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday to observe the Sabbath.

In July 2014, an Adventist air traffic controller, Matthew Gray, won a complaint against a U.S. government labor union that ordered him to work on Sabbath in retaliation for his decision to quit the union.

“Religious discrimination is a continuing problem in the American workplace,” Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Charlotte district office, said Wednesday. “Under federal laws, employers have an obligation to balance employees’ needs and rights to practice their religion with the conduct of the employer's business. Where there is a minimal impact on the business, those religious needs must be accommodated.”