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Religious Bias Suit Over Drug Test Settled

A Sanford, N.C., auto parts manufacturer has settled a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding the company’s firing of an employee who refused, for religious reasons, to provide saliva for a drug test.

The manufacturer, GKN Driveline North America Inc., has agreed to pay $36,432 in damages to the former employee, provide training on religious discrimination and post information on employees’ rights under federal laws, the federal commission announced on Dec. 27, 2010.

As part of its random drug-testing program, company officials in July 2009 asked the employee, Dwayne Butler, a waste handler, to provide saliva for testing. Butler refused, saying it would violate his beliefs as a practicing member of the Santería religion. He offered to submit to alternative forms of drug testing, but he was fired instead, according to the commission.

Based on his faith’s teaching, Butler said, he can’t provide saliva to anyone unless it’s for a religious purpose.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers must attempt to make reasonable accommodations for the sincerely held religious beliefs of employees as long as accommodation poses no undue hardship, stated the commission, which filed the lawsuit in August 2009. The settlement was announced two weeks before a jury trial was to start.

The number of religious discrimination cases has increased dramatically in the last decade, with 3,386 new cases being filed in federal fiscal 2009 compared to 1,709 in 1997, according to the commission's website.

“This case should remind employers that they must respect individual workers’ sincerely held religious beliefs, even when those beliefs are not ‘traditional’ beliefs commonly practiced by ‘mainstream’ religions,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the commission’s Charlotte, N.C., district.

A spokesman for GKN Driveline wasn’t available for comment.


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