AT&T Ordered to Pay $756,000 for Religious Bias

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission yesterday announced a favorable jury verdict of $756,000 in a religious discrimination lawsuit brought against AT&T Inc. on behalf of two male customer service technicians who were suspended and fired for attending a Jehovah's Witnesses Convention (Case No. 3:06-cv-00176).

At the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Jonesboro Division, the jury awarded the two former employees, Jose Gonzalez and Glenn Owen, $296,000 in back pay and $460,000 in compensatory damages under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

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 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.

"I am very pleased with the jury's verdict," Gonzalez said. Owen added, "I'm glad that the justice system works and that the jury saw what was going on and corrected it."

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.

"In this case, AT&T forced Mr. Gonzalez and Mr. Owen to choose between their religion and their job," said Faye A. Williams, regional attorney for the EEOC Memphis District Office. "Title VII does not require that an employee make that choice in order to maintain gainful employment."

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