Society settles lawsuit over alleged refusal to allow nurse to wear skirt at San Antonio facility

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A Nashville company has agreed to settle a federal lawsuit alleging it refused to allow a nurse to wear a scrub skirt for religious reasons at a San Antonio detention center.

Wellpath, which provides health care services to state and federal correctional facilities, agreed to pay $75,000 to resolve the lawsuit filed by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The agency enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination.

After Wellpath offered Malinda K. Babineaux a nursing job in 2019 at the former Central Texas Detention Center in downtown San Antonio, she asked if she could wear a scrub skirt instead of a scrub pants to conform to his religious beliefs. She is an apostolic Pentecostal Christian who believes that she is forbidden from wearing pants or other types of men’s clothing.

Wellpath denied Babineaux’s request and rescinded his job offer, the EEOC alleged in a September 2020 lawsuit filed in federal court in San Antonio. Babineaux filed an interim complaint in the case in March.

The parties filed court documents announcing the settlement on Friday. It requires the approval of a judge.

“Wellpath strongly denies the allegations of the EEOC and the intervenor, and Wellpath states that it engaged in the interactive process with the intervenor and concluded that the requested accommodation created undue hardship for Wellpath” , according to the joint petition for a decree of consent.

A Wellpath spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

The EEOC had sued Wellpath for unspecified damages on behalf of Babineaux, including back wages and future monetary losses, and pain and suffering. She also sought punitive damages.

In addition to paying Babineaux $75,000, the settlement requires Wellpath to institute a policy dealing with requests for religious accommodations and to prohibit employment discrimination based on religion.

Wellpath must also provide at least one hour of training per year on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to hiring and firing managers and human resources personnel in Texas. Title VII prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. The decree of consent has a duration of two years.

The company employs approximately 15,000 people in 34 states and Australia, providing medical and behavioral care services to nearly 300,000 patients in residential treatment facilities, civic engagement centers and local, state and federal correctional facilities. , says its website.

The Central Texas Detention Center closed in 2020 after housing federal inmates on remand for decades downtown. It was operated by the GEO Group, a Florida-based publicly traded real estate investment trust. The establishment was demolished last year.

In a court filing in April, Wellpath said GEO told him Babineaux would not be allowed to enter the detention center wearing a skirt. As a result, Wellpath terminated the hiring process.

Wellpath said it maintains policies that allow accommodation of religious beliefs unless it causes undue hardship to the business.

Babineaux wears an almost ankle-length skirt and long sleeves as part of her religious beliefs, EEOC attorney Philip Moss said in an interview after the lawsuit was filed.

“Allowing Ms. Babineaux to wear a brushing skirt would not have caused difficulty for (Wellpath) or her client, as Ms. Babineaux could fully perform the duties of the position while wearing a brushing skirt,” said the EEOC in its complaint. “In fact, Ms. Babineaux wore a skirt for several years while working in the medical field in correctional institutions.

Employers are required to reasonably adjust their dress codes to accommodate the religious beliefs of applicants or employees, unless the actions amount to undue hardship, the EEOC said.

Some apostolic Pentecostal denominations encourage members to dress modestly, including long skirts or women’s dresses at all times. Women also don’t cut their hair or wear makeup.

Babineaux’s legal team included attorneys from Stanford Law School’s Religious Liberty Clinic.

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