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DOJ accuses Michigan city of religious discrimination

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The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a complaint against a Michigan city, accusing it of religious discrimination against a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The DOJ filed the suit on Friday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, stating that the city of Lansing violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

According to the complaint, Lansing failed to give “reasonable accommodation” to city employee Sylvia Coleman when she asked not to work from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday for religious reasons.  

“Prior to terminating Coleman’s employment, Lansing management did not establish that accommodating Coleman would cause undue hardship on the conduct of its operations,” noted the complaint.

“Coleman suffered emotional distress, pain and suffering, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life, humiliation, and other non-pecuniary damages as a result of Lansing’s discriminatory actions … Coleman suffered monetary loss as a result of Lansing’s discriminatory actions.”

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement Monday that religious discrimination has “no place in the workplace today.”

“Employees should not have to choose between their religion and their livelihood, particularly when the employer can accommodate their religious beliefs,” stated Clarke.

“The Civil Rights Division is committed to protecting the religious rights and religious freedom of employees by ensuring that no one faces unlawful discrimination in the workplace.”

Lansing spokesperson Scott Bean told Michigan Public Radio Monday that the city plans to fight the complaint, arguing that it was “inconsistent with the facts and the law.”

In early 2018, Coleman became a detention officer with the city’s police department, having explained from the onset that she could not work sundown Friday to sundown on Saturday.

Shortly after being hired, Coleman was scheduled to work a 12-hour shift on a Saturday. Coleman requested to take a different shift, offering to work an overnight shift instead.

However, according to the complaint filed this month, her superiors said she had to work the scheduled shifts and then terminated her employment shortly thereafter.

Coleman filed a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in July 2018, accusing Lansing of discrimination for trying to force her to work on the Sabbath.

EEOC concluded that there was “reasonable cause” that Coleman was discriminated against and, after a failed conciliation process, referred the issue to the Justice Department.

In addition to being a reporter, Michael Gryboski has also had a novel released titled The Enigma of Father Vera Daniel. For more information, click here.

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