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Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Justice Department Secures Settlement in Religious Discrimination Suit Against Lansing, Michigan

The Justice Department announced today that it has entered into a consent decree with the City of Lansing, Michigan, that will resolve the department’s religious accommodation and retaliation lawsuit. 

The lawsuit alleged that the city violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 after discriminating and retaliating against Sylvia Coleman, a Seventh-day Adventist and former detention officer with the city’s police department. Title VII is a federal statute that prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex and religion. Title VII also prohibits retaliation against employees who have made a charge, assisted or participated in an investigation, proceeding or hearing under Title VII.

“This lawsuit and consent decree demonstrate the department’s commitment to ensuring that all employees are protected from religious discrimination in the workplace,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “With this consent decree, the city of Lansing will undertake actions necessary to protect the religious rights of employees in the workplace.”

The department’s amended complaint alleges that, on her first day of work, Coleman informed the city that she could not work a shift from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday because she observed the Sabbath as a Seventh-day Adventist. The amended complaint alleges that Coleman also informed the city of her religious observance during the application process. The department’s complaint asserted that instead of adequately attempting to reasonably accommodate Coleman’s religious observance, which Title VII requires, the city terminated her employment. The amended complaint further alleges the city retaliated against Coleman by filing a counterclaim against her because she intervened in the United States’ lawsuit.  

Under the consent decree’s terms, the city will submit to the department for approval religious accommodation and retaliation policies as well as proposed trainings on these policies. In addition, the city will pay Coleman $50,000 in backpay and compensatory damages. The consent decree is subject to approval by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

Trial Attorneys Sara Safriet, Robert Galbreath, Christopher Woolley and Dena Robinson of the Civil Rights Division’s Employment Litigation Section brought this case.

The enforcement of Title VII and other federal employment discrimination laws is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division and its work is available on its websites at www.justice.gov/crt and www.justice.gov/crt/employment-litigation-section.

Labor & Employment
Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 
Updated February 15, 2023