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EEOC sues Food Lion for religious discrimination

SALISBURY — Food Lion violated federal law when it refused to provide a religious accommodation for and then fired an employee who is a Jehovah’s Witness, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged in a workplace discrimination lawsuit filed today.
Food Lion was founded in Salisbury. The company’s headquarters, as well as the corporate office for parent Delhaize America, are on Harrison Road.
A spokeswoman said because Food Lion has not been served with a copy of the complaint, the company cannot comment on the pending litigation.
According to the EEOC’s complaint, Victaurius L. Bailey was hired as a meat cutter at a Food Lion store in Winston-Salem on June 6, 2011. Bailey, who is a Jehovah’s Witness minister and elder, is required to attend church services and church-related meetings on Sundays and Thursday evenings as a component of his faith.
Due to his religious beliefs and practice, upon hire Bailey asked that he not be scheduled to work on Sundays or Thursday evenings. According to the EEOC’s complaint, the store manager for Food Lion’s Market No. 1044 in Winston-Salem initially agreed to accommodate Bailey’s request.
However, when Bailey was transferred to work as a meat cutter at Market No. 334 in Kernersville, the store manager there told Bailey that he did not see how Bailey could work for Food Lion if he could not work on Sundays.
According to the EEOC, Food Lion fired Bailey on June 27, 2011 because he was not available to work on Sundays.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to attempt to make reasonable accommodations to sincerely held religious beliefs of employees absent undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement with Food Lion.
In its complaint, the EEOC seeks back pay, along with past and future pecuniary losses, past and future non-pecuniary losses, compensatory damages, punitive damages and injunctive relief.
“Employers need to ensure that their supervisors and managers who are called upon to make decisions on employees’ requests for religious accommodations are fully knowledgeable of their obligations under federal law,” Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District Office, said in a news release. “Many decision makers seem to forget that unless providing a reasonable accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the company, the accommodation must be provided.
“No person should ever be forced to choose between his religion and his job.”
Food Lion has about 63,000 employees in stores located in 10 states.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.

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