Appellate Court Upholds EEOC’s Religious Bias Verdict against AT&T
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a jury’s verdict that AT&T unlawfully discriminated against two customer service technicians who were fired after attending a Jehovah’s Witnesses convention in 2005. The court also upheld the lower court’s award of $756,000 in damages to the two men.
On October 19, 2007, a federal jury in Jonesboro, Ark., found in favor of the EEOC in its lawsuit against AT&T for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC had charged the San Antonio, Texas-based company with violating Title VII by denying the two employees a reasonable accommodation of their sincerely held religious beliefs, as the law requires, and unlawfully terminating them because of those beliefs.
The evidence at the four-day trial revealed that both men had submitted written requests to their manager in January 2005 for one day of leave to attend a Jehovah’s Witnesses convention 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. They attended the conference on July 15, 2005 and were discharged for “misconduct, job abandonment, insubordination, and failure to follow a work directive.”
The jury found AT&T liable and awarded $756,000 in damages, including lost wages to both men. The presiding judge, Judge J. Leon Holmes, ordered AT&T, among other things, to reinstate both men and awarded them front pay until the date of their reinstatement. The judge also enjoined AT&T from engaging in any employment practice which discriminates on the basis of religion.
The EEOC's lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas at Jonesboro on September 28, 2006 (Case No. 3:06CV00176 JLH), after the agency first attempted to reach a voluntary settlement out of court.
Proceedings in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit were handled by Assistant General Counsel Lorraine C. Davis and Appellate Attorney Anne Noel Occhialino of the EEOC Office of General Counsel's Appellate Services Division.
“We are pleased that this matter is now over and these gentlemen may now move forward with their lives,” said Faye A. Williams, regional attorney for the EEOC Memphis District Office. “These people took a stance for their sincerely held religious beliefs, and justice prevailed.”
EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney William Cash, Jr., who tried the case with agency attorney Darin Tuggle, said, “These were two outstanding employees who simply should have been allowed to attend the Jehovah’s Witnesses Convention as they had done during their employment. When employers or management officials attempt to make an example out of employees, as was done in this case, there is a high price to pay for that act.”
According to company information, AT&T is the largest provider of both local and long-distance telephone services, DSL Internet access and wireless service in the United States, with 74.9 million wireless customers and more than 150 million total customers.
Religious discrimination charge filings reported to EEOC offices nationwide have substantially increased from 1,388 in Fiscal Year 1992 to 2,880 in FY 2007.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.