The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing a Mississippi restaurant after a Christian waitress allegedly was fired for refusing to wear pants because of her faith.
In 2015, Kaetoya Watkins applied to be a server at a Georgia Blue restaurant in Flowood, Miss., a suburb of Jackson, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. She was offered the position and scheduled to begin work before learning that Georgia Blue had a dress code requiring employees to wear blue jeans, the lawsuit said.
Watkins, who identifies as an Apostolic Pentecostal Christian, told a manager that her religion “prevented her from wearing pants,” and asked to wear a blue jean skirt instead, the suit said. After receiving no reply to her request, Watkins reported for work wearing a jean skirt and was sent home, according to the suit; the next day, she received a voice mail from her manager that said Georgia Blue’s owner had decided she “would not stray away from” its dress code policy. She never returned to work.
“Georgia Blue, LLC discriminated against Kaetoya Watkins by failing to reasonably accommodate her religious beliefs and practices, and denying her employment by rescinding its job offer or terminating her because of her religion,” the suit said.
Georgia Blue has four locations and a bakery in Mississippi, and sells its own vodka, salad dressings and other products. In a statement, the company said it was “disappointed to learn of the lawsuit.”
“Georgia Blue is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on any basis, including religious practices,” the statement said.
Employers must provide reasonable religious accommodation under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the EEOC said, and it is seeking lost wages for Watkins and an injunction to prevent further discrimination.
“Under federal law, employers have a duty to provide an accommodation to allow an employee to practice his or her religion when the employer can do so without undue hardship on the operation of the company,” Delner Franklin-Thomas, district director of the EEOC’s Birmingham District Office, whose jurisdiction includes Mississippi, said in a statement. “This case shows the EEOC is committed to combatting religious discrimination in the workplace.”
Apostolic Pentecostal Christians are known for wearing long skirts and eschewing makeup. Vinson Synan, a scholar-in-residence at Oral Roberts University and an expert on Pentecostalism, called the faith “the most conservative” in the Pentecostal family.
“It’s expressive worship compared to the more sedate worship of mainline Protestant churches,” he said.