University of Phoenix to Pay $1,875,000 for Religious Bias

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced that Federal District Court Judge Mary H. Murguia has entered a consent decree for nearly $2 million and significant remedial relief to resolve a class religious discrimination lawsuit against the University of Phoenix Inc., and its parent corporation, Apollo Group Inc.

Apollo Group and the University of Phoenix are one of the largest employers in the Phoenix metropolitan area. In its lawsuit, filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (EEOC v. University of Phoenix Inc., and Apollo Group Inc., CV 06-2303-PHX-ROS), EEOC charged that the University of Phoenix engaged in a widespread practice of discriminating against non-Mormon employees who worked as enrollment counselors in the University's Online Division. Enrollment counselors at the University of Phoenix are responsible for recruiting students and are largely evaluated based on the number of students they recruit. At present, the University of Phoenix has more than 2,000 employees working in online enrollment.

Robert Lein, who filed a charge of discrimination with EEOC that resulted in the lawsuit, said, "I am very pleased with the outcome of this case and I thank the EEOC staff for their work. I am happy to hear that the University of Phoenix is making significant changes to its environment to prevent what happened to me and many of my colleagues from happening again in the future."

Testimony of witnesses in the case revealed that managers in the Online Enrollment Department at the University of Phoenix discriminated against non-Mormon employees, and favored Mormon employees, in several ways, including: (1) providing the Mormon employees better leads on potential students; (2) disciplining non-Mormon employees for conduct for which Mormon employees were not disciplined; (3) promoting lesser-qualified or unqualified Mormon enrollment counselors to management positions while repeatedly denying such promotions to non-Mormon enrollment counselors; and (4) denying tuition waivers to non-Mormon employees for failing to meet registration goals, while granting the waivers to Mormon employees.

"We are pleased that University of Phoenix is going to stop condoning such favoritism toward Mormon employees and the resultant discrimination against non-Mormon employees," said Mary Jo O'Neill, EEOC Phoenix regional attorney. "It is the EEOC's belief that, for many years, the University of Phoenix condoned an environment in which Mormon managers felt free to engage in favoritism toward their Mormon employees, and did so by providing the Mormon employees things such as strong leads on potential students. Given that evaluations are based largely on recruitment numbers, this disproportionate assignment of leads affected a whole host of matters for employees, including compensation, access to tuition waivers, and ability to be promoted."

The consent decree entered into by EEOC, the University of Phoenix, and Apollo Group provides monetary relief of $1,875,000 for 52 individuals. The amount of relief provided to any individual is based on the nature of the discrimination he or she experienced. The consent decree also contains several strong provisions designed to stop further religious discrimination and prevent it from recurring, including:

  • Dissemination of a Zero Tolerance Policy to all employees in the University of Phoenix Online Enrollment Department, stating that the company has zero tolerance for religious discrimination and that any violation of the policy will result in termination;
  • Training for managers and non-managers on the issue of religious discrimination;
  • Creating a system to include in managers' evaluations an assessment of their compliance with equal employment opportunity laws; and
  • Hiring a Diversity Officer, and the staff necessary, at the University of Phoenix to monitor compliance with the terms of the consent decree.

EEOC's Phoenix District Director Chester Bailey said, "We hope this settlement sends a message to all employers to be vigilant in ensuring a fair and equitable work environment for all employees regardless of their religion. The relief the EEOC obtained will require this large employer to change discriminatory business practices that already have affected potentially hundreds of non-Mormon employees at the University of Phoenix Online."

Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.

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