NC construction company settles EEOC complaint

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A North Carolina construction company has agreed to pay $47,500 to three laborers it fired because they refused to work Saturdays for religious reasons.

T.A. Loving Co., with offices in Goldsboro and Morrisville, reached the settlement with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which had sued the company in February for religious discrimination. The settlement was reported by the News & Observer.

T.A. Loving fired four workers after they said they would not show up for a Saturday work assignment. As members of the Seventh-Day Adventist church, the workers said, they can’t work from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, the church sabbath.

The EEOC contends that the construction company could have accommodated the workers’ religious needs.

“They could have brought in temporary people to cover the shift or scheduled other workers to work that day,” said Lynette Barnes, an EEOC lawyer in Charlotte.

The federal anti-discrimination agency has seen a spike in complaints during the recession as jobs have become scarce and fired employees grow more aggressive about seeking legal remedies.

Between 1997 and 2006, the EEOC received 75,000 to 80,000 complaints a year nationally, but complaints soared to 95,402 in 2008 and 93,277 last year.

Complaints also spiked in the previous recession, surging to 84,442 in 2002, declining again when the economy improved.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for their workers’ religious beliefs unless accommodating the workers would impose an undue hardship on a company.

T.A. Loving settled the case but did not admit to wrongdoing. The company told the EEOC that the workers didn’t give the company enough time to make accommodations.
In a court filing, the company admitted that it was able to find replacements for the fired employees on the same day.

As part of the settlement, the company will have to purge the dismissed worker’s employment records and provide them with reference letters. It will also have to provide annual anti-discrimination training to its managers and workers.

Seventh-Day Adventists are known as sabbatarians, a term that refers to those who observe the sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. The category also includes Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jews.

The EEOC sued on behalf of three of the Goldsboro-area workers T.A. Loving fired; the fourth, Jaime Mejia, had left the country and could not be located.

Elvis Cifuentes Angel will receive $20,000 from the settlement. Hugo Angel-Lopez and Abenaias Velasquez will both receive $13,750. Read more.

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