Restaurant to make changes following religious discrimination lawsuit
Judge signed off on settlement on Friday afternoon
FARMINGTON — A Farmington restaurant has agreed to pay $25,000 to a former employee and make changes to the workplace after it was accused of failing to accommodate the employee's religious beliefs.
U.S. District Judge James O. Browning signed off on a final judgement and consent decree between Blue Moon Diner Inc. and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Friday afternoon, according to court documents.
The federal agency filed a lawsuit against the restaurant on June 19 in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico.
The Blue Moon Diner allegedly discriminated against former employee Samantha Bandy and violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to accommodate her religious practices of wearing a hijab.
The lawsuit also alleged co-owner Mike Ulrich "verbally counseled" Bandy four times about the length of her head scarf, along with telling her to wear a bandanna at work instead of her hijab.
The former employee felt compelled to resign following an April 26 meeting, stating she would have to wear a "head covering," which conflicted with her religious beliefs, and did not return to work, according to court documents.
J. Edward Hollington, attorney for the Blue Moon Diner, said his client believes the restaurant treated the employee fairly and did not discriminate against her. He added his clients cited the legal expense of going to trail as their reason for pursuing the decree.
"The company could not afford the enormous cost and expanse of litigating the case and decided to use its resources to continue to service the community and move forward," Hollington said.
The lawsuit was filed following an investigation by the EEOC after Bandy filed a claim with the agency that the restaurant, co-owned by Mike and Christi Ulrich, violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
The Ulriches also own Porter's Restaurant and Smokehouse in Farmington.
Bandy will receive $2,500 for back pay and compensatory damages of $22,500. The restaurant is required to pay her within 15 business days of the decree.
The Blue Moon Diner agreed to expunge Bandy's employee personnel file of references to the allegations in the case and her termination.
The court documents show the Blue Moon Diner will conduct a number of steps to adjust its policies, documentation and training to avoid violating the Civil Rights Act and Equal Employment and Opportunity policies. The restaurant is required to review its Equal Employment and Opportunity policies and practices with an outside consultation firm to comply with the law and revise them if necessary.
The Blue Moon Diner will adopt and maintain a written policy to illustrate how religious accommodations will be provided during the hiring process and for current employees.
Copies of the written policy and other reports are required to be forwarded to the EEOC during a two-year period, according to court documents.
The restaurant has 60 days to stage the first sessions of Equal Employment and Opportunity training for all its employees, which an agency representative also can attend.
Each party to the lawsuit is responsible for attorney fees and its own costs.
As part of the final judgement, Mike Ulrich provided and has signed a letter of reference for Bandy. The letter of reference states Bandy was a hard worker as a cashier/hostess at the Blue Moon Diner and the business wishes her success in her future endeavors, according to court documents.
Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at email@example.com.