The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit in September alleging that a Pensacola Furniture store violated a manager’s rights by firing her for her refusal to obtain a COVID-19 vaccination.
In a 10-page complaint filed in the Northern District of Florida, the EEOC claims that Hank’s Furniture Inc. (HFI) violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 when the organization “engaged in unlawful employment practices” regarding an assistant manager’s religious beliefs and their mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies.
“In conjunction with the implementation of these policies, HFI announced it wanted all managers to immediately obtain the COVID-19 vaccine and asked (the manager) about her vaccination status,” the lawsuit says.
The employee, identified only as “K.M.O.” in the lawsuit, claims she sought an exemption from the policy citing her “sincerely held Christian beliefs” but was subsequently denied and fired.
HFI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Here is a timeline of events the lawsuit alleges occurred between the former assistant manager and HFI.
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July 21, 2021
Arkansas-based Hank’s Furniture Inc. is a retail seller of home furniture with stores in four states.
On July 21, 2021, HFI informed K.M.O. that it planned to implement policies to encourage employees to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
After the announcement of the policies, K.M.O. told the company she did not plan to take the vaccine.
Aug. 6, 2021
Roughly two weeks after implementing the policy, K.M.O. told HFI that she has “sincerely held religious beliefs” that would not allow her to take the vaccine. She then requested a religious exemption.
Aug. 19, 2021
HFI allegedly contacted K.M.O. and asked if she would comply with their vaccination policy.
“(K.M.O.) opposed HFI’s attempts to pressure her into taking the COVID-19 vaccine on Aug. 19, 2021, explaining again that she could not violate her sincerely held religious beliefs,” the suit says. “Because HFI continued to ignore (K.M.O.’s) verbal requests for accommodation, she told HFI she planned to submit a written request for religious accommodation and asked whether HFI had a particular form she should use.”
The lawsuit alleges HFI did not respond to her request.
After K.M.O. complained about the “unjustness” of HFI’s alleged refusal of religious exemption, her new supervisor informed her that “HFI did not care why she would not take” the vaccine and that HFI “would never grant an accommodation.”
Aug. 20, 2021
HFI announced all employees who do not take the COVID-19 vaccine would be fired on Oct. 31, 2021.
Aug. 26, 2021
K.M.O. submits her written request for religious exemption, citing Title VII and listing her “sincerely held Christian beliefs.”
The EEOC claims HFI ignored her written request, alleging the leadership of the business discriminated against her on the basis of her religion.
Sept. 6, 2021
K.M.O. sent an email to HMI requesting a status update on her written request of religious exemption.
Sept. 14, 2021
HFI allegedly notified K.M.O. she did not properly request her religious exemption from taking the vaccine, saying it was “severely lacking.” Her request was then denied.
After the denial, she “asked for help to submit an acceptable religious exemption request, but, at all times, HFI refused to discuss accommodating (her) sincerely held religious beliefs,” the lawsuit claims.
Oct. 31, 2021
HFI terminates K.M.O. from her managerial and employment position for her failure to vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the lawsuit.
What happens next?
The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Pensacola Division, after its Mobile Local Office completed an investigation and first attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process.
Marsha Rucker, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Birmingham District, said, “This suit should remind employers they must communicate with employees requesting accommodation for religious beliefs and try to accommodate those beliefs whenever reasonably possible.”
The EEOC claims HFI’s employment practices “were intentional and done with malice or reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of” K.M.O.
Therefore they requested the court order HFI to provide backpay with prejudgment interest to K.M.O. and “other affirmative legal and equitable relief necessary to eradicate the effects of its unlawful employment practices.”
Along with monetary damages, the EEOC demanded a jury trial.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Pensacola manager COVID vaccine refusal sparks federal lawsuit
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