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EMPLOYMENT LAW 6/8/06

EEOC sues hospice agency for religious discrimination

A Lumberton, North Carolina hospice agency violated federal antidiscrimination law when it required an employee to attend a "prayer circle" and fired her because she objected to the practice and refused to attend, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed on June 1, 2006.

According to the EEOC, the employee, Dorene Sampson, who is a Jehovah's Witness, was working as a registered nurse for the hospice. The complaint alleges that Sampson was required to regularly attend a "prayer circle" from about January until March 2005. In March 2005, she refused to attend the mandatory prayer circle and was fired as a result.

The EEOC's suit seeks back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief. "In a society that values religious freedom, you would expect it to be common sense that employers cannot force their employees to take part in a religious ceremony as a condition of their continued employment," said Reuben Daniels, Jr., Director of the EEOC's Charlotte District Office. "Retaliating against an employee for objecting to a discriminatory practice is also illegal, and only makes a bad situation worse. The EEOC will continue to vigorously enforce federal laws which prohibit this type of conduct."

For more information on this and other topics, consult CCH Employment Practices Guide or CCH Labor Relations.

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