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Food Lion Hit With Religious Discrimination Lawsuit

As our population becomes more diverse, it is becoming incumbent upon employers to accommodate the various religious practices of their employees. In fact, the law requires them to do so. One employer in North Carolina, Food Lion, was hit this week by a employment discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC alleging the North Carolina-based grocery retailer fired an employee because he was unavailable to work on days he had to attend Jehovah's Witness services and meetings.

Food Lion hired Victaurius Bailey on June 6, 2011, as a full-time meat cutter at the grocer's Winston-Salem, North Carolina, location. Bailey alleged he told his supervisor in advance of his religious requirements that he would need to take days off of work on the weekend of June 24, 2011, to attend a Jehovah's Witness convention, the complaint says.

According to the complaint, Bailey is a minister and elder in his congregation who had to attend church services at those times. "He also believes that because of his faith and his position as elder, which is ordained by Bible scripture, he must attend certain meetings related to religious matters on Sundays and Thursday evenings, including theocratic ministry school to help members of the congregation become effective ministers," the complaint says.

When Bailey was assigned to work at the grocer's Kernersville, North Carolina, location, however, the manager refused to accommodate Bailey's request and scheduled him to work on the days of the convention, the complaint says.

Bailey did not go to work those days and instead attended the convention. On June 27, the manager from the Winston-Salem store told Bailey that he was being fired because he was not available to work Sundays, according to the document.

"Defendant failed to accommodate Bailey's religious beliefs and discharged him because of his religion, Jehovah's Witness," the complaint says.

The government seeks a permanent injunction enjoining Food Lion from discriminating against future employees for their religious beliefs and court orders forcing the grocer to enact policies and programs prohibiting the unlawful practices.

It also seeks back pay and other compensatory and punitive damages for Bailey.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the New York City Human Rights Law, prohibit discrimination against employees because of their religion. Religious discrimination involves treating a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs. The law protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.

The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.

The law requires an employer or other covered entity to reasonably accommodate an employee's religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden on the operations of the employer's business. This means an employer may be required to make reasonable adjustments to the work environment that will allow an employee to practice his or her religion.

Examples of some common religious accommodations include flexible scheduling, voluntary shift substitutions or swaps, job reassignments, and modifications to workplace policies or practices.

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