October 1, 2013

Seventh-day Adventist Wins Sabbath Case

A Seventh-day Adventist who was recognized for his “customer service and teamwork” at a northern California automobile dealership was awarded $158,000 in settlement of a lawsuit brought when Maita Chevrolet of Elk Grove, California, fired him for refusing work on the Sabbath, or Saturday.

The lawsuit, seeking damages under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a U.S. federal government agency. Seventh-day Adventist attorney Alan Reinach of the movement’s Church State Council, also represented the employee, Anthony Okon, in the action.

“The EEOC’s investigation found that Maita supervisors not only failed to accommodate Mr. Okon’s religious practice, but answered his requests with harassment, discipline, and ultimately discharge,” said EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo. “Employers must recognize the value of diversity in their workforce, including religious diversity, and not harass or discriminate against those of different faiths or religious practices.”

Todd McFarland, an attorney with the world church’s Office of General Counsel, said the Seventh-day Adventist Church was “happy to partner with the EEOC in this action to ensure that employers honor their commitment to worker’s rights.”

Okon, a Nigerian immigrant, worked for the dealership from April 2005 to May 2007. A key tenet of Okon’s Adventist faith is to observe the Sabbath by refraining from secular work from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. The EEOC charged the company persistently scheduled him to work shifts during the Sabbath, despite numerous requests from Okon, and his pastor, explaining the requirements of their religion. In addition, the EEOC alleged that Okon was harassed, denied work on Sundays, and ultimately disciplined and discharged for taking leave to observe the Bible Sabbath.

Under the court-approved consent decree settling the suit, Maita Chevrolet will revise its personnel policy manual concerning religious accommodation; train its managers, supervisors and human resources personnel on this subject; and report to the EEOC all requests for religious accommodation or complaints of religious discrimination.

Elk Grove, California, is part of the church territory known as the Northern California Conference. As of 2010, there were 41,824 baptized members worshipping in 151 congregations in the conference.