Friday, October 16, 2015

Say What?

An Illinois federal jury will soon hear a somewhat unusual case, where the defendants have claimed that they were unaware of federal discrimination laws and therefore cannot be found to have acted maliciously or willfully when it fired two Muslim workers who sought a religious accommodation. 

In this case of EEOC v. Star Transport, Inc. , the two employees who were drivers for the company, requested that they not be required to transport alcoholic beverages as it violated their Muslim religious tenets. Rather than reassigning routes among some of the more than 1,000 workers for the company to accommodate the requests, Star Transport just fired the two employees.

When the employees filed discrimination claims with the EEOC, the company remarkably acknowledged its actions but claimed it was not aware of federal laws that prohibited that action. Its admission that it fired the employees because of their religious beliefs and requests for accommodation makes the company liable for compensatory damages. The company, though, is hoping to be spared an award against it for punitive damages by arguing that it could not willfully violate the employees’ rights because it was unaware of those rights. 

If the company didn’t know before, it seems that it’s about to pay a hefty price for a lesson in anti-discrimination laws that it won’t likely forget.