BOSTON – AutoZone, Inc., a national distributor and retailer of automobile parts, violated federal law when it subjected an employee who had converted to the Sikh religion to harassment and refused to accommodate his religious need to wear a turban, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.
The EEOC’s lawsuit, Civil Action No. 1:10-cv-11648, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, alleges that AutoZone created a hostile work environment for Frank Mahoney-Burroughs because of his Sikh religion at its location in Everett, Mass. The harassment included a manager asking Mahoney-Burroughs if he was a terrorist and had joined Al-Qaeda and whether he intended to blow up the store, the EEOC said. The complaint also alleges that AutoZone failed to intervene when customers referred to Mahoney-Burroughs as “Bin Laden” and made terrorist jokes.
The EEOC also said that AutoZone refused to let Mahoney-Burroughs wear a turban and kara (a religious bracelet) as required of male adherents to Sikhism. Finally, AutoZone terminated him because of his religion and in retaliation for complaining about discrimination.
Religious harassment and discrimination, as well as retaliation for complaining about them, violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The agency seeks monetary relief for Mahoney-Burroughs, the adoption of strong policies and procedures to remedy and prevent religious discrimination by AutoZone, training on discrimination for its managers and employees, and more.
The Sikh religion is the world’s fifth-largest religion by adherents and has nearly one million followers in the United States. AutoZone is a publicly traded Fortune 500 company with more than 4,300 stores throughout the country as well as in Mexico.
Spencer H. Lewis, Jr., the director of the EEOC’s New York District Office, which has jurisdiction over Massachusetts, said, “Employers are obligated to accommodate the religious beliefs of employees unless the accommodation poses an undue hardship. The EEOC will continue to take swift action to protect employees from religious discrimination.”
Elizabeth Grossman, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office, added, “This case also is a reminder that employers must be particularly vigilant against the harassment and unfair treatment of religious minorities.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.