The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit on behalf of four former employees of a Texas physician who allegedly discriminated against them on the basis of religion by unlawfully requiring them to attend daily Bible studies, requiring them to discuss religious matters in these meetings, and for terminating them for religious reasons. According to the EEOC’s complaint, filed after settlement efforts were unsuccessful, the employer engaged in unlawful employment practices on the basis of religion and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
According to the complaint in EEOC v. Tim Shepherd, MD d/b/a Shepherd Healthcare filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas Dallas Division (read the complaint), on September 20, 2017, the employer held daily meetings that all employees “were required to attend regardless of their own religious beliefs or affiliation, or lack thereof.”
One employee who worked in the Shepherd Healthcare call center asked to be excused from the meetings as she is a follower of Buddhist principles and does not ascribe to the Christian beliefs of the owners of the business. According to the complaint, the business owners denied her accommodation request and required her to attend the meetings. Finally, in June 2016, she spoke with the owners again and was told, per the complaint, that her accommodation would be denied and she should “think about new employment.” The next day she was fired.
The complaint alleges that another employee, a Clinical Supervisor, approached the owners with her concerns. Maldonado was transferred to a position as a Medical Assistant and the owners allegedly told the employees that she had been removed from her position “because she was not leading them properly, was not following Christ, and was not seeing the Shepherds’ vision.” The following week she was told she needed to be “more Godly” and to “wash the feet” of others and was then fired.
A third employee, a single mother, was admonished that being a single mother was “not what God wanted” and the employer offered her an opportunity to seek counseling and invited her to go to church. She declined both invitations. One day she was asked to pick a Bible verse that “meant the most” to her during the mandatory morning meeting and she asked to be skipped over. The next day she was fired.
A male employee was told by one of the owners that they would not condone him living with his girlfriend and was firedwhen he declined pre-marital counseling.
The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction against the employer discriminating against employees on the basis of religion, and seeks lost wages and damages.
The Shepherd’s answer to the lawsuit has not been filed as of yet. However, in an NBC 5 interview, Shepherd attorney Thomas Brandon said, “This is not a meeting that was required all of the time, it was not always a religious content, and if somebody wanted to not attend they had every right not to attend.”