EEOC Sues Voss Lighting for Religious Discrimination

TULSA, Okla. – A Lincoln, Nebraska-based supplier of lighting products violated federal law by refusing to hire a qualified applicant at its Tulsa facility because of his religious beliefs, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.

According to the EEOC’s suit, Voss Electric Company, doing business as Voss Lighting, advertised a vacancy for an “operations supervisor” position through the website of the First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow, the church attended by the incumbent manager. Although he did not himself attend the church, Edward Wolfe, who had prior management experience, learned about the vacancy and applied for the position. The Voss manager met with Wolfe and recommended him to the branch manager for an interview. Throughout the application process, both managers made numerous inquiries, both subtle and overt, into Wolfe’s religious activities and beliefs. They asked Wolfe to identify every church he has attended over the past several years; where and when he was “saved” and the circumstances that led up to it; and whether he “would have a problem” coming into work early to attend Bible study before clocking in.

At Wolfe’s second job interview, the EEOC said, Voss’s branch manager became upset over Wolfe’s truthful responses to the religious questioning. Despite being considered qualified for the position, which involved no religious duties or responsibilities, Wolfe was denied employment on the basis of his religious beliefs.

Such alleged conduct violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma (EEOC v. Voss Electric Company d/b/a Voss Lighting, Civil Case No.: 12-CV-330-JHP-FHM) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC’s suit seeksback pay, compensa­tory and punitive damages and reinstatement or front pay for Wolfe as well as injunctive relief, including a court order prohibiting Voss Lighting from any further discrimination against applicants on the basis of their religious beliefs or non-beliefs.

“Voss Lighting appears to have a corporate culture that requires employees adhere to certain religious beliefs that have absolutely no bearing on the business of selling lighting products,” said EEOC trial attorney Patrick Holman. “This litigation, we hope, will serve to illuminate Voss Lighting as to Title VII’s prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of religion.”

Barbara A. Seely, regional attorney of the EEOC’s St. Louis District Office, added, “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has long prohibited a private employer from discriminating against applicants or employees based on their religious beliefs or practices -- or lack thereof. The level of intolerance demonstrated by Voss Lighting is inconsistent with the values of the free and diverse society embodied in these laws.”

According to company information, Voss Electric Company, doing business as Voss Lighting, is one of the nation’s leading suppliers of specialized replacement lighting products, with offices in 16 cities across the United States.