EEOC suits claim bias at 3 Valley businesses

Employees allege religious discrimination

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued three prominent Valley businesses, alleging religious discrimination against Mormon, non-Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness workers.

The federal watchdog agency accused the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort of firing a Mormon supervisor after she complained about being ordered to work on Sundays. Another suit accuses the Arizona Paper Box Co. of abusing and firing Jehovah’s Witnesses. A third civil complaint charges the Desert Schools Federal Credit Union with job bias against employees who do not belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“We have seen an 85 percent increase in religion charges from 1992 through 2002 nationwide,” said Mary O’Neill, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office. “Federal law expressly prohibits creating a religiously hostile work environment, and the EEOC will continue to vigorously enforce laws against religious discrimination.”

The EEOC enforces federal laws banning workplace discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, religious affiliation or disabilities.

The agency investigates allegations of workplace bias and attempts to resolve conflicts with employers before filing federal lawsuits.

The Scottsdale Princess case involves Amy Ferrin, an eight-year employee who served as the hotel’s concierge supervisor.

According to the EEOC’s suit, Ferrin was fired 12 days after she complained that new management reversed an eight-year practice that accommodated her Sunday religious needs.

The EEOC says Ferrin was branded a “cancer” by hotel officials. The agency is seeking $300,000 on Ferrin’s behalf.

Rosemary Taylor, regional director of human resources at the resort, declined comment on the suit but said, “The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess does not discriminate on any basis.”

In suing the Arizona Paper Box Co., the EEOC contends that two Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gerardo Amaya and Jose Covarrubias, were victimized by a manager who made derogatory remarks and posted demeaning cartoons about their faith.

The suit says both were fired when they complained.

A company spokesman declined to comment on the case but said, “Arizona Paper Box is an equal-opportunity employer . . . (that) does not tolerate discrimination against any religious community.”

According to the suit against Desert Schools Federal Credit Union, employee Dera Littles and others were denied promotion because they are Black and/or non-Mormon.

Instead, it says, promotions were granted to less-qualified employees who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It also alleges that non-Mormon workers were subjected to a religiously hostile work environment. Desert Schools operates credit unions statewide, and EEOC officials said the problem arose at more than one branch.

“This is outright religious discrimination that cannot be tolerated,” said Charles Burtner, EEOC Phoenix District director.

Desert Schools officials could not be reached for comment.

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