GKN Driveline North America Sued for Religious Discrimination

Aug. 27, 2009
EEOC charges that auto parts company unlawfully fired worker

GKN Driveline North America, Inc., a Sanford, N.C.-based automotive components company, violated federal law by failing to accommodate an employee's religious beliefs and by firing him because of his religion, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed on August 26.

According to the complaint, GKN refused to accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of Dwayne Butler, a practicing member of the Santera religion. GKN Driveline requested that Butler submit to a random drug test that involved providing saliva for testing. Butler told the company that the beliefs and practices of Santera forbade him from submitting to such a test and offered to undergo alternative forms of drug testing. However, the EEOC said, GKN refused to allow Butler to submit to an alternative form of drug testing and fired him.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits religious discrimination and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees and applicants' sincerely held religious beliefs as long as this does not pose an undue hardship.

In its complaint, the EEOC seeks back pay, reinstatement, compensatory damages and punitive damages for Butler, as well as injunctive relief. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement.

"In this case, the employer refused to provide a simple accommodation that would have enabled Mr. Butler to practice his religious belief and would have prevented this discrimination suit," said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District. "Employers must respect individual workers' sincerely held religious beliefs, even when those beliefs are not the 'traditional' beliefs commonly practiced by the majority of religions."

GKN Driveline designs, builds and supplies a range of driveline components to the automobile industry. The company employs approximately 21,000 people nationwide.

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