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Employment Blog

Lazy Days of Summer are Gone - EEOC Files Lawsuits

Authored by Dean R. Dietrich
Posted on August 29, 2014
Filed under Employment

It appears the lazy days of summer have gone away. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently filed two lawsuits showing its aggressive stance to "cleanup" its view of discrimination matters. One lawsuit involved discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act for being terminated when deciding not to participate in a wellness program. The other lawsuit involved allegations of religious discrimination.

In the participation in wellness program lawsuit, a Wisconsin company was sued by the EEOC alleging the company terminated an employee for refusing to participate in a voluntary wellness program. The complaint alleges the company required an employee to pay the full health insurance premium cost and then subsequently fired the employee because the employee objected to questions being asked in a wellness program and refused to participate in the wellness program activities established by the company. The EEOC is alleging the wellness program was not voluntary and the termination of the employee was contrary to the requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act as it relates to voluntary participation in a company established wellness program. The EEOC, in its press release, acknowledged the popularity of company-based wellness programs but reiterated its position that the wellness program must be completely voluntary so that an employee deciding not to participate is not adversely affected in any way. The EEOC is pursuing back wages and additional monetary damages for "mental anguish" and punitive damages for "malicious and reckless" conduct.

In the religious discrimination case, a California company was sued by the EEOC alleging it violated the religious discrimination requirements of the Civil Rights Act when it terminated an employee who was unavailable for work because he had to attend Jehovah's Witness services and meetings. The employee was an elder in the Jehovah's Witness Church and had to attend services on Thursday evening and Sundays so he could not work on those days. The employee allegedly told the company, at the time of initial employment, that he needed to have time off on the upcoming weekend to attend a Jehovah's Witness convention and was terminated when he failed to report to work on those scheduled days. The EEOC is seeking a permanent injunction against the company for any discrimination against other employees for their religious beliefs and a court order forcing the company to enact policies and procedures that would prevent that type of discrimination. The EEOC is also seeking payment of back wages with compensatory and punitive damages against the company.

It is easy to see the EEOC will be pursuing litigation to enforce its views of the protections given to employees under federal law against discriminatory conduct. Employers should take the time to review their policies and procedures to avoid any claim of discrimination by the EEOC.