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Snack food giant settles religious discrimination lawsuit

Religious Liberty | Frito-Lay fired an employee who didn’t want to work on Saturday Sabbath
by Steve West
Posted 2/22/21, 01:28 pm

Texas-based Frito-Lay, a PepsiCo subsidiary, settled a claim on Wednesday from a Seventh-Day Adventist employee who lost his job after refusing to train on Saturdays. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against the company in September. Other similar suits could lead the Supreme Court to review its prior rulings on the issue.

According to the complaint, Jhonny Toussaint, a newly promoted sales representative for Frito-Lay in West Palm Beach, Fla., told his supervisor he could not train for the position on Saturdays because of his religious beliefs. Seventh-Day Adventists believe Saturday is the Christian Sabbath and abstain from secular work and business that day. The EEOC alleged a district manager threatened Toussaint with termination if he didn’t train on the weekend. The lawsuit states Frito-Lay denied Toussaint’s request for religious accommodation and fired him after he missed two Saturday training sessions.

After initially fighting the complaint, the company has agreed to pay Toussaint $50,000 in compensation for lost wages and to implement manager and employee training on reasonable accommodation processes, have trained staff review requests, and regularly report to the EEOC. Bradley A. Anderson, acting district director for the Miami district office of the EEOC, commended Frito-Lay for the decision, but noted that “the failure to accommodate religious practices remains a persistent problem in the workplace.”

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act bars employers from religious discrimination and requires reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs unless doing so would impose an undue hardship. But the 1977 Supreme Court ruling Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison found Title VII does not require an employer to make religious exceptions if it imposes more than a minimal expense or inconvenience, making it hard to win such a case. In February 2020, the court declined to revisit that decision in Walgreens employee Darrell Patterson’s case. But Justice Samuel Alito and two other justices argued they wanted a chance to review the standard.

They may get an opportunity soon. In June, Seventh-Day Adventist Mitche Dalberiste appealed to the Supreme Court after lower courts upheld an employer’s decision to withdraw a job offer over his Saturday Sabbath accommodation request.

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Steve West

Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C. Follow him on Twitter @slntplanet.

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