Qualified Applicant Denied Job Because His Religious Beliefs Differed From the Company’s, Federal Agency Charged
TULSA, Okla. – Voss Electric Co., doing business as Voss Lighting, will pay $82,500 and furnish company-wide injunctive relief to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The EEOC had charged that the Lincoln, Neb.-based supplier of replacement lighting products violated federal law by refusing to hire a qualified applicant at its Tulsa location because of his religious beliefs.
According to the EEOC’s suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma (Civil Case No. 4:12-cv-00330-JED-FHM), Voss Lighting advertised a vacancy for an “operations supervisor” position at its Tulsa location through the website of a Tulsa-area church attended by the incumbent supervisor. Edward Wolfe, who had prior operations management experience, learned about the vacancy and applied for the position although he did not himself attend the church. Voss’s incumbent supervisor met with Wolfe and casually gathered personal information about his religious beliefs and practices. Notwithstanding the fact that Wolfe provided his resume and other job-related information, the supervisor forwarded only Wolfe’s personal religious information to the branch manager and recommended that he be hired.
When the branch manager formally interviewed Wolfe, the majority of the job interview concerned Wolfe’s religious activities and beliefs, the EEOC said. For instance, Wolfe was asked to identify every church he has attended over the past several years; where and when he was “saved” and the circumstances that led up to it; and whether he “would have a problem” coming into work early to attend Bible study before clocking in. According to Wolfe, the branch manager expressed dissatisfaction with his truthful responses to the religious questioning.
At the time Wolfe was interviewed, Voss had no viable candidates for the position being filled. Despite being considered qualified for the position, Wolfe was denied employment on the basis of his religious beliefs, the EEOC charged. Voss continued to seek applicants and eventually hired an individual whose religious ideology matched that of the company and its leadership.
In addition to the $82,500 payment to Wolfe, the consent decree settling the suit, which must be approved by U.S. District Court Judge John Dowdell, also requires Voss Lighting to undertake specified company-wide actions designed to prevent future religious discrimination, including the posting of an EEOC notice specifically prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of religion at all its 21 locations spanning 12 states, re-dissemination of anti-discrimination policies; periodic reporting to the EEOC of specified hiring information; religion-neutral job advertising; and the training of management on religious discrimination.
“Refusing to hire a qualified job applicant because his religious beliefs do not comport with those of the employer’s leadership is illegal, even if the for-profit company purports to have a religious mission or purpose,” said Barbara A. Seely, regional attorney of the EEOC’s St. Louis District Office. “The evidence in this case suggested widespread religious discrimination throughout the company, not just its Oklahoma locations. The EEOC is optimistic that the corporate-wide remedial actions agreed to by Voss Lighting will put an end to the role religion plays in its decisions affecting applicants and employees. If not, we will be back in court again.”
Voss Lighting, with over 200 employees, specializes in the sale of lighting products and does business throughout the United States.
The EEOC St. Louis District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and southern Illinois, with Area Offices in Kansas City and Oklahoma City.
Eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring, especially class-based recruitment and hiring practices that discriminate against racial, ethnic and religious groups, older workers, women, and people with disabilities, is one of six national priorities identified by the Commission’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available on its web site at www.eeog.gov