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Refusing to provide reasonable accommodations to religious employees could cost bosses. Two Muslim truckers who refused to transport alcohol for religious reasons were vindicated by a jury this week. They won their religious discrimination claim and $240,000 in damages, The Washington Post reports.
The suit was brought in Illinois by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of the truckers. The EEOC argued that the company could easily have switched the driver's loads, as is the regular practice at Star Transport. The company conceded this point, which may be why the truckers' claim succeeded.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, private employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees based on their religion. In addition to the federal law, states have individual statutes that often provide added restrictions.
Employers must make reasonable accommodations for religious employees. That does not mean that the worker can just do whatever. But if accommodating religious concerns does not present an undue hardship on the employer or other workers, accommodation is the law.
In this case, the accommodation requested by the truckers was to switch loads. They refused, out of respect for Islam's prohibition on alcohol, to transport booze. But they were willing to take another load, and that -- in the eyes of the law, the EEOC, and the Illinois jury that found for them -- was a reasonable request.
The additional administrative hassle to Star Transport was minimal. Given that the company conceded loads were switched regularly, its refusal to do so for employees refusing a load on religious grounds was deemed unreasonable.
The jury awarded the drivers two types of damages, compensatory and punitive. Although Star Transport is now out of business and it is unclear who will pay the judgment, the truckers were awarded $40,000 in compensation while $200,000 were a punishment to the company for discrimination.
Whether or not they can collect, the truckers proved an important point. Refusing reasonable accommodation for religious employees is risky business.
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