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Worker Wrongfully Fired For Exercising Right To Religious Freedom EEOC Lawsuit Charges

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Having represented employment discrimination victims for more than two decades, our Marion County, Florida wrongful termination attorneys know that employees are often required to observe the religious practices of their employer. In this article our Ocala, Florida wrongful termination lawyers explain how a recent religious discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) illustrates the expansive protection of religious freedom in the workplace under the federal anti-discrimination laws.

In a press release issued on March 12, 2021, the EEOC announced that it has obtained a final judgment against Tim Shepherd, M.D., P.A. and Bridges Healthcare, P.A., doing business as Shepherd Healthcare. On September 12, 2017, the EEOC filed the lawsuit, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Tim Shepherd M.D., P.A. and Bridges Healthcare, P.A., Case No. 3:17-cv-02569, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. On March 10, 2021, a final judgment was entered by the U.S. District Court Judge against Shepherd Healthcare in the amount of $375,000.

Employees’ Right To Religious Freedom

The EEOC filed the religious discrimination lawsuit pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), on behalf of a former employee of Shepherd Healthcare, Almeda Gibson (Gibson). Under Title VII, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of religion. Title VII defines the term “religion” to include all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief. Title VII’s protection of religious freedom in the workplace also includes the right of employees to reject the religious beliefs of employers. As the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals explained in EEOC v. Townley Engineering & Mfg. Co., 859 F.2d 610 (9th Cir. 1988), “[p]rotecting an employee’s right to be free from forced observance of the religion of his employer is at the heart of Title VII’s prohibition against religious discrimination.” Title VII also requires employers to accommodate the religious beliefs of employees, including an obligation to accommodate employees who do not want to participate in an employer’s religious practices.

Worker Claims Wrongful Termination

In July 2015, Shepherd Healthcare hired Gibson to work at its call center. During Gibson’s employment, Shepherd Healthcare held daily mandatory meetings which all employees were required to attend regardless of their own religious beliefs or affiliation, or lack thereof. These meetings typically began each workday morning with a reading or study of Biblical verses and included a discussion of how the religious principles could be related or applied to their personal lives. These mandatory meetings were usually led by the owners of Shepherd Healthcare.

Gibson is a follower of Buddhist principles and is not an adherent of any other religion. After initially attending these mandatory meetings, Gibson asked to be excused from compulsory attendance as a religious accommodation because of her discomfort with the pressure she felt was imposed upon her to accept or embrace the religious beliefs of others. Gibson, according to the EEOC, had numerous discussions with management about her need for a religious accommodation over the course of her tenure with Shepherd Healthcare, but management continuously denied her request and required that she attend the morning meetings.

In June 2016, Gibson met with the owners of Shepherd Healthcare and renewed her request to be excused from these religious discussions as an accommodation for her religious beliefs. Her request, according to the EEOC, was again denied, and one of the owners told Gibson that she should think about new employment. Shepherd Healthcare then fired Gibson the next day. The EEOC maintains that Shepherd Healthcare fired Gibson because of her continued requests for an accommodation for her religious beliefs and her opposition to her forced participation in religious meetings.

Attorneys For Wrongful Termination Victims

The EEOC, which is an administrative agency of the federal government, is responsible for interpreting and enforcing the federal employment laws prohibiting discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. In protecting employees’ right to religious freedom in the workplace, the EEOC brings lawsuits on behalf of employees who have been subjected to unlawful discriminatory employment practices on the basis of religion.

Ocala, FL Wrongful Termination Attorneys

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Marion County, Florida wrongful termination lawyers have represented wrongful termination victims for more than twenty years. If you have been wrongfully fired or have questions about your rights under the federal employment laws as a wrongful termination victim, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Ocala, Florida wrongful termination attorneys. Our employment and labor law attorneys take wrongful termination cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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