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Judge refuses new trial in EEOC/Muslim religious bias loss

Judge refuses new trial in EEOC/Muslim religious bias loss

In a victory for employers, a federal judge has refused a motion for a new trial in a religious discrimination case that was filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against an airport ground services firm that had won a jury verdict on the issue.

The plaintiffs in the case were five Muslim females who had applied for, and were denied, cabin cleaning positions with Jupiter, Florida-based JetStream Ground Services Inc. after having worked for the previous subcontractor, according to a Nov. 3 ruling by the U.S. District Court in Denver in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission et al. v. JetStream Ground Services Inc., which was publicized this week.

Plaintiffs in the case had claimed several violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, although the case eventually went to trial only over the issue of whether the women had not been hired because they covered their heads with hijabs. On April 29, 2016, a jury decided in JetStream’s favor following a 14-day trial.

The EEOC and other plaintiffs filed a motion for a new trial on several grounds, including that evidence regarding safety hazards heard during the trial was confusing and distracting and designed to incite jurors’ fear and prejudice of Muslims.

Judge Christine M. Arguello denied the motion. Plaintiffs “have not shown that defense counsel’s eliciting testimony regarding safety concerns or his statements in opening or closing constituted misconduct or fraud on the court warranting a new trial,” she said in her ruling.

The EEOC went “to the mat” in this case and lost, said Gerald L. Maatman Jr., partner with Seyfarth Shaw L.L.P. in Chicago, who was not involved in the case. He added, however, that “religious discrimination issues are high on the agenda for the EEOC,” and religious accommodation issues can put firms in a “high-risk situation” where they are subject to government/EEOC action.

It is “kind of a workplace dynamite issue these days,” he said.


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