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Posted On: August 4, 2009 by Peter M. LaSorsa

AT&T Pays $1.3 Million In Religious Discrimination Lawsuit

A jury of nine women and three men awarded the two former AT & T employees, Jose Gonzalez and Glenn Owen (brothers-in-law), $296,000 in back pay and $460,000 in compensatory damages under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act based on discrimination. During the four-day trial, the jury heard evidence that both men had submitted written requests to their manager in January 2005 for one day of leave to attend a religious observance that was scheduled for Friday July 15 to Sunday July 17, 2005. Both men testified that they had sincerely held religious beliefs that required them to attend the Jehovah’s Witness convention each year. Both men had attended the convention every year throughout their employment with AT&T. Gonzalez worked at the company for more than eight years and Owen was employed there for nearly six years.

The case was tried in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Jonesboro Division (Case No. 3:06-cv-00176), before Judge Leon Holmes. AT&T appealed the jury verdict to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Eighth Circuit sided with the EEOC and upheld the jury verdict. The amount awarded by the jury at trial grew to $1,307,597 with the inclusion of interest and front pay. Judge Holmes granted the EEOC’s request for an injunction prohibiting AT&T from engaging in any employment practice which discriminates on the basis of religion.

“These two employees never should have had to choose between their jobs and their sincerely held religious beliefs,” said EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru. “With increased religious diversity in the workplace, employers need to be extra vigilant in guarding against discrimination based on religion.”

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits religious discrimination and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ sincerely held religious beliefs, as long as this does not pose an undue hardship.

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