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Greensboro, North Carolina-based company Aurora Renovations and Developments, LLC, doing business as Aurora Pro Services, a residential home service and repair company, violated federal law when it required employees to participate in religious prayer sessions as a condition of employment and retaliated against employees who opposed the unlawful practice, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, since at least June 2020, the company required all employees to attend daily employer-led Christian prayer meetings. The meetings were conducted by the company owner and included Bible readings, Christian devotionals, and solicitation of prayer requests from employees.
Aurora’s owner, a devout Catholic identified online and Facebook as Oscar D. Lopez, also took roll before some of the meetings and reprimanded employees who did not attend. When an atheist construction manager, George McGaha, asked to be excused from the prayer portion of the meetings in the fall of 2020, the defendant company refused to accommodate the employee’s beliefs, cut his pay and fired him. A few months later, in January 2021, Aurora terminated an agnostic customer service representative Mackenzie Saunders, who stopped attending the prayer meetings because the meetings conflicted with her beliefs.
Lopez posted on his Facebook account December 22, 2020, shortly after firing McGaha and just a matter of weeks before terminating Saunders, a comment that confirms his adherence to Christian teachings in the workplace: “This place is a shop of God. We start our day by listening to his message, we care about each other, we care about our customers and we care about the quality of our work.
“God is Blessing us with great people. Our Core Values that we believe are important: Integrity, Customer Care, Safety, Team Work and Serving God.”
Clearly, his personal beliefs are conflicting with his employees’ personal beliefs in the workplace.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits religious discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court, Middle District of North Carolina (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Aurora Renovations ad Developments, LLC, d/b/a Aurora Pro Services, Civil Action No.: 1:22-cv-00490) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process. The EEOC seeks monetary relief for the two employees, including compensatory and punitive damages. The EEOC also seeks injunctive relief against the company to end any ongoing discrimination based on religion and to take steps to prevent such unlawful conduct in the future.
“Federal law protects employees from having to choose between their sincerely held religious beliefs and their jobs,” said Melinda C. Dugas, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District. “Employers who sponsor prayer meetings in the workplace have a legal obligation to accommodate employees whose personal religious or spiritual views conflict with the company’s practice.”
For more information on religious discrimination, please visit the EEOC website here.