Religious Pressure at Texas Vet Clinic Leads to $150,000 EEOC Settlement

Employment Law Weekly, December 29, 1999

An Arlington, Texas veterinary clinic agreed earlier this month to pay $150,000 to six employees who claimed in a suit backed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the company unlawfully pressured employees to subscribe to beliefs of the Church of Scientology (EEOC v. I-20 Animal Medical Center, N.D. Tex, 398CV2316-X, settlement approved 12/2/99). In a complaint filed Sept. 30 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, EEOC alleged that I-20 Animal Medical Center violated religious discrimination provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Specifically, the complaint charged that I-20 subjected non-scientologist employees to disparate treatment, failed to reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs of non-scientologist employees, and retaliated against workers who opposed what they believed were unlawful employment practices.

Since at least Sept. 1, 1991, the complaint charged, I-20 intentionally pressured employees to "conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the teachings of the Church of Scientology and to participate in religious activities, including, but not limited to, religiously-influenced course-work." In addition, EEOC claimed, I-20 required employees to participate in religious activities in order to be promoted to or retain management positions.

I-20 refused to excuse employees from religious activities, EEOC said, and disregarded worker objections to the imposition of Scientology. Employees who refused to participate in religious functions or otherwise resisted religious pressures were subjected to discipline, the complaint charged, including assignment to lesser tasks and termination.

Settlement Outlines Relief

In a consent decree signed Dec. 2 by U.S. District Court Judge Joe Kendall, I-20 denied any violations of Title VII but agreed to conduct all future employment practices in a manner that does not subject any employee to discrimination based on religion.

The company agreed to pay a total of $150,000 to six employees to settle all compensatory, punitive, and other damages. Payment will be sent to the employees in the form of separate cashiers' checks in amounts to be determined by EEOC.

I-20 also agreed that it will not condition pay raises, promotions, or other job benefits on employee compliance with employer-imposed religious teachings, and will not use religiously-influenced training material. The company will also train employees on the requirements and provisions of Title VII and post a notice outlining complaint procedures on the company bulletin board.

Under the terms of the settlement, I-20 will remove all documents related to charges of religious discrimination from employee personnel files.

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