Oklahoma: Religious Discrimination Case Ends in Settlement

By Jay Shannon

Voss Lighting, a Nebraska based supplier of lighting products, announced on March 19th that it will settle a religious dicsrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The Commision’s suit alleged that company personnal refused to hire Edward Wolfe at its Tulsa location due to his religious beliefs, in violation of federal law. The released settlement agreement requires Voss to pay an $82,500 fine as well as comply with various new conditions aimed at preventing future claims of religious discrimination in each of the company’s locations, covering 12 states.

The EEOC claims stem from Edward Wolfe, who had applied to work at the Tulsa branch of Voss Lighting after becoming aware of an opening in early 2011. Voss had previously advertised the opening through a Baptist church of which Wolfe did not attend. The suit alleges Wolfe was subjected to a variety of religious inquiries during his two-part interview, primarily concernening his personal beliefs and practices. The suit recalls one such inquirey in which Wolfe was asked at what point he was “saved” and the circumstances leading to that point in his life.

During the second interview, after receiving negative feedback from the branch manager over his responses to the reilgious questions, Wolfe was denied the position. The EEOC claims that no other qualified candidates were considered at the time of the interviews. A fact in dispute by Voss, claiming the Baptist candidate who eventually filled the position is more quialified than Wolfe.

In a public statement Barabara Seely, a regional attorney for the EEOC in St. Louis said “The evidence in this case suggested widespread religious discrimination throughout the company, not just its Oklahoma locations. The EEOC is optimistic that the corporate-wide remedial actions agreed to by Voss Lighting will put an end to the role religion plays in its decisions affecting applicants and employees. If not, we will be back in court again.”

Among the conditions of the consent decree are included provisions requiring Voss to conduct religion-neutral advertising, report specified hiring information to the EEOC, and retrain management on religious discrimination.