WILMINGTON — A federal agency sued Perdue Farms Inc. on Monday, claiming the company discriminated against its Seventh-day Adventist employees by refusing to excuse them from Saturday shifts unless the workers produced written proof that they had been to church.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Wilmington by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Jean Ulysse and other Seventh-day Adventists who work at the poultry company’s Georgetown plant. Ulysse could not be reached.
Perdue spokesman Joe Forsthoffer said the company had not yet seen the lawsuit and therefore could not comment.
Human resources director Bob Bullock declined to comment directly on the suit, but said Perdue does not discriminate.
“We do accommodate associates for religious reasons,” Bullock said.
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“We always have and always will.”
Jacqueline McNair, regional attorney for the commission, said eight Perdue employees complained about being scheduled to work on Saturdays despite their religious convictions. Seventh-day Adventists consider Saturday their Sabbath.
According to the lawsuit, Perdue posted a written policy about the issue in 2001 that said if a Seventh-day Adventist missed work for religious reasons, they had to provide written proof that they had been to church.
That proof would be accepted only the next day, a Sunday, the lawsuit said.
Normally, the only parts of the plant open on Sunday are the distribution area and the maintenance department, Bullock said.
Forcing workers to bring in written proof of church attendance “calls into question the sincerity of their religious beliefs,” commission lawyers wrote in the lawsuit.
The commission is seeking an unspecified amount of monetary damages for the employees.