June 11, 2016

U.S. Cement Maker ‘Required Newly Baptized Adventist to Work on Sabbath’

A U.S. government watchdog has filed a religious discrimination lawsuit against a North Carolina cement producer, saying it required a newly baptized Seventh-day Adventist employee to work on Sabbath and fired him when he declined.

Michael Cole, a truck driver with Winterville-based Greenville Ready Mix Concrete since 2007, was not required to work during the Sabbath hours when he was baptized in February 2014, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church observes the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

Shortly after his baptism, Cole asked Greenville Ready Mix to excuse him from working on Sabbath because of his religious beliefs, but the company then scheduled him to work on Saturday, March 22, 2014, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in its lawsuit.

“When Cole notified the company that he could not work that day based on his religious beliefs, the company discharged him for that reason,” the commission said in a statement.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to attempt to make reasonable accommodations for the sincerely held religious beliefs of employees.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is responsible for enforcing the law, has filed a number of religious discrimination lawsuits involving Adventists and other religious groups in recent years. In September 2015, the agency sued a privately owned hospital group in Minnesota, accusing it of illegally revoking a job offer to an Adventist nurse who sought the Sabbath off. Two months earlier, it won a lawsuit against a franchisee of the Dunkin’ Donuts restaurant chain that rescinded a job offer to an Adventist believer who declined to work on a Friday night.

In Cole’s case, the U.S. government first attempted to reach a voluntary settlement with Greenville Ready Mix. When that failed, it filed a lawsuit on Tuesday, June 7, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Eastern Division (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Greenville Ready Mix Concrete, Inc.) seeking back pay and other monetary damages.

Greenville Ready Mix has not commented publicly about the case.

The government’s lawsuit serves as a warning that employers need to respect employees’ right to worship, said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the Charlotte District Office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“Employers need to ensure that their supervisors and managers who are called upon to make decisions on employees’ requests for religious accommodations are fully knowledgeable of the employer’s obligations under federal law,” Barnes said. “Many decision-makers seem to forget that, unless providing a reasonable accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the company, the accommodation must be provided. No person should ever be forced to choose between his religion and his job.”