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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark.—Ozarks Electric Cooperative Corp. violated federal law when it fired an employee for asking for a day off to attend a religious convention, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said.
The EEOC said last week that it had filed suit in federal court in Fayetteville, Ark., against the Fayetteville-based utility for firing Julie Solis, a call center customer service representative and a Jehovah's Witness. The agency said the company denied the request and fired Ms. Solis for making it.
The EEOC accuses the cooperative of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“This employee's request was so modest and minor it is astounding the company not only refused it, but also fired her. Employees should never be forced to choose between their religion and their job,” Katharine W. Kores, district director of the EEOC's Memphis, Tenn., district office, said in a statement.
Responding to the lawsuit, Paul Dougan, vp of member relations and marketing for the cooperative, said the cooperative's attorneys are reviewing the case and will file a response
“We plan to vigorously defend the case,” he said. “We have always respected the religious belief of all our employees, and we're confident the facts will show these allegations are simply not true.”
According to EEOC statistics, religious discrimination charges, which accounted for 4.2% of all charges filed with the agency, increased 9.5% in fiscal 2011 compared with the previous year. Overall, charges filed with the EEOC increased just 0.2%, to 99,947 in fiscal 2011.