A Mississippi restaurant chain, Georgia Blue LLC, is being sued for failing to accommodate a server’s religious requests.
In October 2015, Kaetoya Watkins was hired to work as a waitress by the eatery. It was after she received the job offer that Watkins, a devout Apostolic Pentecostal Christian, learned of Georgia Blue’s dress code requiring servers to wear blue jeans.
Watkins does not wear pants because of her religion. After accepting the job offer, “Watkins notified Georgia Blue of her Apostolic Pentecostal religious belief that women should wear only skirts or dresses and requested the reasonable accommodation of wearing a blue skirt," the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleges in a lawsuit filed Monday.
After she reached out to the company about her dress code needs, Watkins said she received no response and reported to work in a jean skirt. She was sent home for the violation, the Associated Press reports.
According to the suit, the restaurant, which has several locations around Mississippi, later denied Watkins’ request and told her “the owner” would “not stray away from” the company dress code. Watkins’ job offer was then rescinded.
"Under federal law, employers have a duty to provide an accommodation to allow an employee to practice his or her religion when the employer can do so without undue hardship on the operation of the company,” Delner Franklin-Thomas, district director of the EEOC's Birmingham District Office, said.
"Most religious accommodations are not burdensome, such as allowing an employee to wear a skirt instead of pants," said EEOC Birmingham Regional Attorney Marsha L. Rucker, whose jurisdiction includes Mississippi. "It would have been simple to allow Ms. Watkins to wear a long skirt at work. No worker should be obligated to choose between making a living and following her religious convictions."
The alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1964, which requires employers to provide reasonable religious accommodations to employees, the suit states.
J. William Manuel, a lawyer for Georgia Blue LLC., released a statement yesterday denying that the company discriminated against Watkins’ Pentecostal religious beliefs.
The company “does not discriminate on any basis,” Manuel said.
Georgia Blue plans to defend itself against the lawsuit, which seeks an injunction “prohibiting Georgia Blue from discriminating against employees who need religious accommodations, as well as lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages, and other affirmative relief for Watkins.”