The EEOC’s first lawsuit against a company over its failure to recognize an employee’s religious exemption from its coronavirus vaccine policy will be filed as the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling eases the path for the commission. indicates it may be poised to file more similar lawsuits.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last week filed a pair of lawsuits against Hank’s Furniture Co. and United Health Care Services Co. under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The agency argued that the companies failed to comply with the employees’ sincere beliefs because the employees refused to abide by their sincere beliefs. Stop them from vaccinating.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision, Groff vs. DeJoy The June decision requires employers to demonstrate a “substantial increase in cost” to their business to deny an employee’s religious accommodation request under Title VII. Employment lawyers and legal scholars say this higher hurdle for employers increases the likelihood that the EEOC will succeed in these claims.
“This suggests that the EEOC will take a stronger approach to denying requests for religious accommodations.Grof They probably did it more than before,” said Tracy Diamond, an employer-side labor and employment attorney at Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP. “It’s definitely at the forefront of the EEOC’s agenda right now.”
The agency appears to have received many related complaints from workers. Religion-related charges increased dramatically in fiscal year 2022, with 13,814 compared to 2,111 cases filed in fiscal year 2021. This is primarily due to an increase in religious accusations related to vaccines.
new land dweller
in Groff vs. DeJoy The Supreme Court held that the “undue hardship” standard that an employer must meet to deny a reasonable religious accommodation request under Title VII means more than “minimal” hardship. handed down a judgment. The court said employers will now have to show “substantially increased costs associated with conducting a particular business” before denying an accommodation.
The ruling is expected to change the way courts have interpreted corporate obligations for decades, while avoiding drastically changing standards to accommodate employer contributions under the Americans with Disabilities Act. .
“I think regulatory agencies like the EEOC are now enforcing land law in a new way,” said Aaron Holt, an employer attorney at Cozen O’Connor.
The EEOC declined to comment on current or future litigation.
The high court also noted the EEOC’s current guidance regarding religious accommodations, which it said is unlikely to be affected by the ruling.
The EEOC’s 2020 Coronavirus Vaccine Guidance on Workplace Bias Issues states that employers must provide reasonable accommodation under Title VII for religious beliefs that prevent workers from getting vaccinated.Updated with the following additions: Grof Setting new and higher hurdles for employers.
The guidance allows employers to request additional information if they have objective grounds to question the sincerity of a particular belief. The agency also released a sample form for employers to use to respond to religious accommodation requests from workers.
Greater chance of success
Before the Supreme Court’s decision, GrofMany lawsuits brought by workers citing religious or health-related objections to workplace COVID-19 vaccination requirements have been dismissed.
From September 2021 to May 2022, workers filed at least 66 lawsuits against private employers for refusing to grant exemptions or providing inadequate accommodations, according to a Bloomberg Law analysis. had filed a lawsuit. In 22 of these challenges, judges denied workers’ requests for immediate court orders blocking enforcement of these policies.
The EEOC also filed two religious discrimination lawsuits related to influenza vaccine exemptions in 2016, each of which were settled with summary judgment against the defendants.
The EEOC’s religious discrimination case will also test the boundaries of the law’s application. Grofdoes not directly address vaccine mandates.
“The EEOCGrof They will test the boundaries and try to find out how much the law regarding religious accommodations has changed since then.Grof “It makes sense to focus on vaccine cases because we’re looking at so many cases,” said Sarah Benedict, a labor and employment attorney at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.
The commission filed a lawsuit against United Healthcare Services on September 19, alleging that the company denied religious exemptions to employees who worked from home full-time and within 30 days afterward. The employee claims that he was fired because he did not receive the vaccine.
Her lack of face-to-face interaction with other employees could strengthen the EEOC’s argument that it is not up to her employer to grant her a religious exemption from vaccination requirements, employment lawyers said. It is said that there is.
The EEOC’s lawsuit against Hank’s Furniture, filed the same day, deals with an assistant manager who was fired after requesting an accommodation to exempt him from mandatory vaccinations because of his Christian beliefs. The EEOC said the company was able to honor her request without undue hardship on her part.
“If the EEOC had filed these lawsuits earlier, GrofMarcia McCormick, a professor of employment discrimination at Saint Louis University School of Law, said:
Through litigation, the EEOC could face issues such as the impact of an employee’s refusal to vaccinate on the health of co-workers and whether that is sufficient basis for an employer to claim undue hardship after vaccination. be. Grof.
Caroline Corbin, a constitutional law professor at the University of Miami School of Law, said she thinks there are strong arguments that employers can make on these grounds. ” he said.
Regardless of whether the EEOC is successful in filing these cases, their filings are likely to attract the attention of other plaintiffs who wish to claim vaccine exemptions.
“When an issue is spotlighted, it almost always leads to more litigation, so that will result in more litigation,” Benedict said.
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