EEOC may want more than money to settle

In an indication that the agency is getting tougher on employers that violate religious freedom and discrimination rules, the EEOC appears to be squeezing greater concessions from employers before agreeing to settle cases.

Providing back pay to affected employees may just be the start of the process for employers that decide they want to settle lawsuits and move on.

Case in point: A Muslim guard working for Universal Protection Services, a nationwide private security company, claimed he went to his supervisors and requested a modification to the company’s grooming standards. He would later allege in an EEOC complaint that he was fired two days later.

After the EEOC took up his case, it filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Universal Protection Services had refused to reasonably accommodate the guard’s sincerely held religious beliefs and that accommodating him would not have posed an undue hardship.

The EEOC said the company’s conduct violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes religious discrimination unlawful and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees’ religious beliefs.

The parties agreed to settle the lawsuit. The guard will receive $90,000 in damages. The company will retain an equal employment monitor and review and revise its religious accommodation policies and practices.

But that’s not all. The company also agreed to provide annual training for all employees, supervisors and managers who are involved in the religious accommodation process, post notices explaining the process to all employees and report back regularly to the EEOC.

In announcing the settlement, the EEOC explained that the very specific settlement requirements are meant to help vulnerable workers who may be unaware of their rights, reluctant to exercise them or unable to do so because their employer doesn’t have a clear way to do so.

By requiring yearly education on religious rights in the workplace, those workers will have the information they need to exercise their rights.