Aaron Rents Franchisee Fired Jehovah’s Witness for Religious Objection to ‘Red Shirt Fridays,’ Federal Agency Charged

DALLAS – Denton, Texas-based Alliance Rental Center, L.P., which operates several Aaron Rents franchises in North Texas, will pay a former employee $21,500 and furnish other relief to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit (Civil Action No. 3:09-CV-1757-F), Tyler Templeton, a product technician, was fired when he declined to participate in the company’s “Red Shirt Friday” dress code, a store practice intended to show support for the U.S. military. Alliance required employees to wear red shirts provided by the company on Fridays as a show of support for the armed forces. As a Jehovah’s Witness, it is Templeton’s religious belief that he is not to express opinions about government matters, including military affairs. The EEOC said that Templeton informed his supervisors about his religious beliefs and his observance of neutrality on issues of war, including military efforts, but was reprimanded for not complying with the Friday dress code. The EEOC further charged that company management disregarded Templeton’s requests that he be excused from that particular aspect of the dress code, and fired him shortly thereafter.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits religious discrimination and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ sincerely held religious beliefs as long as this does not pose an undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement.

“This is a positive outcome for all parties involved, and it is our hope that the company will be successful going forward as a result of the changes called for in this settlement agreement,” said EEOC Trial Attorney Meaghan Shepard.

In addition to the payment to Templeton, the consent decree settling the suit requires the company to update its employee handbook to include a new complaint procedure and a statement of the company’s awareness of its legal obligation to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs. The company will also provide training to its managers on the laws enforced by the EEOC, post a notice of non-discrimination on employee bulletin boards, and notify the EEOC each time it receives a request for religious accommodation from one of its employees during the term of the agreement.

Regional Attorney Robert A. Canino of the EEOC’s Dallas District Office, said, “This is not a case about an employee’s patriotism, but rather about the accommodation of an employee’s religious freedoms under Title VII. If this franchisee had not been so determined to force its color scheme on Mr. Templeton despite his religious beliefs, it could have very easily avoided a federal law enforcement action.”

In Fiscal Year 2009, religious discrimination charge filings with the EEOC and state/local agencies nationwide rose 3 percent from the previous year, to 3,386.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.