Company Settles Religious Discrimination Case

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has agreed to a settlement with Voss Lighting, an Oklahoma company that actively discriminated against non-Christians in their hiring. The facts of this case are about as blatant a violation as one can imagine:

According to the EEOC’s suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma (Civil Case No. 4:12-cv-00330-JED-FHM), Voss Lighting advertised a vacancy for an “operations supervisor” position at its Tulsa location through the website of a Tulsa-area church attended by the incumbent supervisor. Edward Wolfe, who had prior operations management experience, learned about the vacancy and applied for the position although he did not himself attend the church. Voss’s incumbent supervisor met with Wolfe and casually gathered personal information about his religious beliefs and practices. Notwithstanding the fact that Wolfe provided his resume and other job-related information, the supervisor forwarded only Wolfe’s personal religious information to the branch manager and recommended that he be hired.

When the branch manager formally interviewed Wolfe, the majority of the job interview concerned Wolfe’s religious activities and beliefs, the EEOC said. For instance, Wolfe was asked 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. According to Wolfe, the branch manager expressed dissatisfaction with his truthful responses to the religious questioning.

At the time Wolfe was interviewed, Voss had no viable candidates for the position being filled. Despite being considered qualified for the position, Wolfe was denied employment on the basis of his religious beliefs, the EEOC charged. Voss continued to seek applicants and eventually hired an individual whose religious ideology matched that of the company and its leadership.

The company agreed to pay $82,500 in damages and to make changes to make sure it doesn’t happen again (though this is the kind of thing it’s easy to keep doing while pretending not to).

14 comments on this post.
  1. Zeno:

    I guess being pricks is not frowned upon in the form of Christianity embraced by the Voss company. Shortly after I was appointed to the faculty of the college where I still work, one of my senior colleagues approached me and invited me (“if you’re interested”) to join his religious breakfast club, which met before class once a week to discuss the Bible and share witness. I thanked him for the invitation, but did not immediately accept or reject the offer. He never mentioned it again and we became very friendly colleagues despite its gradually becoming clear that I was a thoroughly lapsed Catholic and nonbeliever. It seems the non-prick Christian can be a very compatible coworker.

  2. iknklast:

    This is SOP in Oklahoma. I was asked about religious beliefs in a job interview when I worked for the state. I didn’t get that job, but there was no way to prove anything. Later, at another state job, they were surprised that I didn’t go to church of Christ; they simply had more jobs than they had church applicants that time. A job I was qualified for, a wetland restoration on the state’s biggest superfund site, went to a woman who had to ask me what a wetland was.

  3. Zeno:

    One of my former colleagues is from Oklahoma. She told me she applied for a teaching job in that state and during the interview was directly asked “What is your home church?”

  4. tbp1:

    I didn’t get asked any religious questions at the university I worked at in SE Texas, but when we moved there almost everyone we met asked if we had found a “church home” yet. They were mostly nice people, and I will say no one got aggressive about it when we said we weren’t really looking, but you could tell they just didn’t quite get the concept of not belonging or going to a church at all.

    My boss was Jewish, but with a not-obviously-Jewish name, so people would often just assume he was a of Christian of some stripe or other. We could occasionally commiserate about the whole fish out of water feeling we got from not being in the local religious mainstream.

  5. carolw:

    At my last job, I’m pretty sure a big part of the reason I was fired was that I didn’t attend the mega-church that all the other ladies did. It was a relief to get out of there. What a nest of vipers. Nothing like a bunch of hypocritical, back-biting, bitter women ganging up on you to make each work day a joy.

  6. janiceintoronto:

    The best thing about Oklahoma was seeing it in my read-view mirror for the last time.

    It’s a religious cesspool.

    Religion pervades almost everything there.

  7. otrame:

    In the current job market ANY job is of value, I know, but honestly I hope that I would have the nerve to answer “Where do you go to church?” with “In what way does the answer to that question inform your decision whether or not to hire me?”

    Of course if you need the job, you can claim to be dissatisfied with your current church and are seeking a new home.

    After all, you smile and pretend you think their jokes are funny.

  8. matty1:

    @7 They then reply “Oh just making conversation” as they cross your name off the list.

    Unless they are stupid enough to tell people they make hiring decisions based on religion or use a printed list of interview questions that falls into the wrong hands it would be hard to prove what was going on. After all an interview is often surrounded by small talk and they can claim “What Church do you go to?” was no more part of the interview process than “How was your journey?” or “Terrible weather we’ve been having”

  9. d.c.wilson:

    If that ever happens to me, my plan is to say, “First Church of Our Lord Satan, Reformed”.

  10. bbgunn:

    If that ever happens to me, my plan is to say, “First Church of Our Lord Satan, Reformed”.

    Might get the same reaction if you just said “Temple Beth Shalom’ or ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Papacy.’

  11. flex:

    When I was laid off a few years ago and interviewing heavily I got the question a couple times. It’s pretty rare to hear it up here in Michigan, but it does crop up occasionally, often as a “getting to know you” question.

    My answer has been a teaching moment. I don’t answer the question. Instead I’ll say something like, “You know, we covered this in my MBA coursework, and I’m sure you are aware that this is an inappropriate question to ask as part of a job interview. Similarly you shouldn’t ask me my age, and while it’s legal in Ohio to ask me my weight, Michigan law prohibits it.”

    Mind you, I didn’t get any job offers from places which asked me about which church I go to, but then I didn’t get any job offers from places which didn’t ask me what church I go to. (I did eventually find employment back at the company which laid me off.)

  12. democommie:

    How about Garrison Keillor’s boyhood church, “The Sanctified Brethren” and then, “I haven’t seen you at one of our services, APOSTATE!”.

    Better yet, show up with a shortsleeved white shirt, black tie, trousers and shoes, on a bicycle, with a briefcase full of Chick tracts, Watchtowers and other fundie handouts and tell them to take their pick.

  13. Ben P:

    but you could tell they just didn’t quite get the concept of not belonging or going to a church at all.

    that’s my sense.

    Within the past six months I’ve changed jobs and work for the state government now. Prior to this I worked in an tall building *white shoe* law firm.

    I’ve actually been a little surprised how much more religion comes up in the workplace as a state employee. At my old law firm most of the partners were church attenders, but for the most part went to big established churches. (it’s good for business you see). Catholics, Episcopalians, Baptists (of the non-evangelical variety). There were often references to church, but very rarely any conversation about religion.

    Working in a state office, the bulk of the employees seem to be southern baptist, pentecostal or church of Christ. Religion comes up a lot.

  14. Synfandel:

    O, how I love living in Canada!

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