EEOC: Work rule doesn't have a prayer

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing a Florida nursing and rehabilitation facility for firing a certified nursing assistant who did not want to work on her religion's Sabbath day.

Philomene Augustin, a practicing Seventh-day Adventist, had worked at Menorah House, a Jewish nursing home in Boca Raton, for 10 years. She said she was never required to work on Saturdays. That's the Sabbath day in the Seventh-day Adventist — and Jewish — religions. But Menorah House management implemented a new policy requiring all employees to work on Saturdays, regardless of their religious affiliation, according to EEOC case filings.

This violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC says, which requires “reasonable accommodation” of religious beliefs, “so long as this does not pose an undue hardship.”

“It is incumbent upon employers to reasonably accommodate an employee's religious practices, when to do so would not result in an undue hardship,” explained EEOC District Director Malcolm Medley.

The commission said it first tried to reach a settlement before suing.

“Unfortunately, in this case the employer refused its legal obligation to pursue a solution that's fair for all concerned,” said Robert E. Weisberg, the EEOC's Regional Attorney for Miami.

A Menorah House spokeswoman declined a McKnight's request to comment.

The lawsuit requests that Menorah House reinstate Augustin, grant back pay, provide compensatory and punitive damages, and award any other relief the court deems appropriate.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the nation's largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, commended the EEOC lawsuit, saying that “no American should be put in the position of having to choose between their career and their conscience.”