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Front Page - Friday, August 23, 2019

Garden Plaza to pay $92,000 to settle lawsuit

Century Park Associates, which operates Garden Plaza at Greenbriar Cove, a senior and assisted living community in Ooltewah will pay $92,586.50 in monetary damages and agree to injunctive relief to settle a religious bias lawsuit, says the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Century required two employees to work on their Sabbath in violation of their religious beliefs. The two employees, members of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

Although the employees offered to work on Sundays, Century told the employees they had to agree to work on Saturdays as part of a new work schedule. When the two employees refused to work on Saturdays due to their religious beliefs, Century asked them to resign. The two employees resigned at Century’s request.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from denying a reasonable accommodation to an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs.

The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Century Park Associates, LLC, d/b/a Garden Plaza at Greenbriar Cove, Civil Action No. 1:17-cv-00231) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Southern Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process.

Besides monetary relief, Garden Plaza entered into a two-year consent decree requiring Garden Plaza to train its employees, including human resources and management personnel, on the requirements of Title VII.

Garden Plaza agreed to report complaints of religious discrimination and requests for religious accommodations to the EEOC and permit the EEOC to monitor Garden Plaza’s compliance with the decree. Garden Plaza denied any liability or wrongdoing in the suit.

“Employers should not force employees to choose between their job and their religious beliefs,” says Faye Williams, attorney with the EEOC’s Memphis District Office. “Making reasonable accommodations to employees’ religious beliefs, except where it poses an undue hardship, is not just reasonable, it’s required by federal law.”

Delner Franklin-Thomas, district director of the Memphis district office which has jurisdiction over Arkansas, Tennessee and portions of Mississippi, says, “When an employee tells his employer his religious belief conflicts with a work policy, the employer has an obligation under Title VII to have a conversation with the employee to determine whether it may reasonably accommodate the employee unless it causes an undue hardship.”

According to its website, Century operates more than 40 retirement communities in 20 states.

Source: EEOC