The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a religious discrimination lawsuit against Arkansas-based Hank's Furniture Inc. for firing an employee who refused to comply with the company's COVID-19 vaccination requirement.
The suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, says that Hank's announced a mandatory vaccination policy in August 2021, a few months after the company promoted Kaityln O'Neal to assistant manager at a location in Pensacola, Florida.
The company gave employees slightly more than two months to get vaccinated or be fired.
O'Neal told the company that her sincerely held Christian beliefs prevented her from taking the vaccine and requested to be exempt from the policy. The suit alleges that Hank's responded by sending her internet articles to convince her that her beliefs were not scientifically accurate.
O'Neal submitted verbal and written requests to be exempt from the policy based on sincerely held religious beliefs, which the company denied, according to the lawsuit. She was fired at the company's vaccination deadline.
The suit alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits an employer from failing to accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs absent undue hardship. The agency said it tried to reach a settlement with Hank's before suing.
Hank's had not filed a response to the lawsuit Thursday morning.
Adam Jordan, CFO of Hank's, told Arkansas Business, "Rest assured, Hank's Furniture did nothing wrong in this." He declined to comment further.
The EEOC is seeking monetary damages for O'Neal, including back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief to prevent unlawful conduct in the future.