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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Justice Department Settles Lawsuit Alleging Religious Discrimination by the City of Birmingham, Ala., Police Department

The Department of Justice announced today that it has reached a settlement agreement with the City of Birmingham, Ala., that, if approved by the court, will resolve the Department’s complaint alleging religious discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.  The complaint, which was filed simultaneously with the parties’ settlement agreement in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, alleges that the city’s police department discriminated against former employee Renee Gunn on the basis of her religion, Messianic Judaism, by failing to provide her a reasonable accommodation of her religious practice of not working during the Jewish Sabbath, which ultimately forced her to resign from the police department.   


Gunn was employed by the city’s police department as a public safety dispatcher from April 2008 until her resignation in August 2011.  According to the Department’s complaint, Gunn is a practicing member of the Messianic Jewish faith, which prohibits its adherents from working during the Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Fridays until sunset on Saturdays.  As the Department’s complaint alleges, Ms. Gunn’s work schedule required that she work during the Jewish Sabbath, and she requested a change in her schedule to accommodate her Sabbath observance.  According to the complaint, police department officials denied this request stating that it did not change off days for any religious faith.   Ms. Gunn was forced to resign her position with the police department due to the city’s failure to provide a reasonable accommodation.  As the complaint alleges, the police department could have accommodated Ms. Gunn’s religious beliefs without undue hardship. 


Under the terms of the settlement, the city must pay Gunn $80,000 in back pay and compensatory damages, and reinstate her as a dispatcher in the police department with a work schedule that does not require her to work during the Sabbath.   The city is also required to develop and implement a religious accommodation policy for the police department that is consistent with Title VII’s requirement for employers to reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs, practices and observances of all employees and prospective employees.  In addition, the city is required to provide mandatory training on the religious accommodation policy to all police department employees.


“Employees should not have to choose between practicing their religion and their jobs,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “This case highlights the obligation of an employer to engage in an interactive process to understand and work with an employee in finding an accommodation of the employee’s religious beliefs that will not cause undue hardship to the employer.  We commend the City of Birmingham for working cooperatively with the Justice Department to reach this agreement.”


The enforcement of Title VII is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.   Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its websites at www.justice.gov/crt/ and www.justice.gov/crt/emp/.

Press Release Number: 
Updated September 10, 2015