Driver accuses trucking company of religious discrimination

Thursday, May 28, 1998

A national conservative Christian-rights group has sued a Nashville trucking company alleging religious discrimination against a driver who refused to make an overnight haul with a female trucker.

The federal lawsuit filed late last week by the American Center for Law and Justice alleges that Consolidated Freightways Corp. violated the religious-liberty rights of David Virts, a driver for the company since 1986, when it fired him for three weeks last summer.

The company says it fired Virts for refusing, more than once, to make long-haul trips with female drivers. Virts' lawyers argue that his Christian beliefs forbade him from making the trip and that the company should have made accommodations—especially since Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires private business to “reasonably accommodate” workers' religious practices, within reason.

Congress enacted Title VII to prohibit employment discrimination based upon a person's race, color, religion, gender or national origin.

“Due to the constricted confines of the bunk area in a truck cab, drivers paired on sleeping runs usually disrobe in the cab before making their way into the bunk behind the driver's seat,” Virts' lawyers claimed. “Such disrobing by members of the opposite sex is understood by Virts as being evil and can lead to lustful thoughts and sexual temptation, all of which the Bible says Christians should avoid and which Virts sincerely holds as religious beliefs.”

John G. Stepanovich, senior regional counsel for the ACLJ, said the lawsuit was simply an attempt “by our client to hold onto his religious beliefs.

“This is a case about a big company ignoring the deeply held religious beliefs of one its employees,” Stepanovich said. “This company could and should accommodate this driver's religious beliefs. Instead, the company is engaging in discriminatory practices that cannot be tolerated.”

Stepanovich added that Virts has no objections to working with women. “He does, however, object to spending the night with them in a small cab in a Mack truck and potentially being faced with a situation where the woman disrobes while he is driving. He just believes it is morally wrong.”

The trucking company has until late June to respond to the lawsuit.

Mike Brown, spokesman for Consolidated Freightways, said that the collective bargaining agreement with the Teamsters mandates how work is assigned at the company.

“Work on a 'sleeper run' is assigned purely on a seniority basis as mandated by the collective bargaining agreement,” Brown said. “Our policy does not discriminate against any work group on the basis of sex, religion or any other Title VII factor.”

Brown added that it would be unfair to Virts to comment further, until the company formally responds to the lawsuit. Based on the facts of Virts' complaint, Brown said his company has never been faced with such a lawsuit.

Stepanvovich questioned the use of the collective bargaining agreement by the company to defend its decision not to accommodate Virts' religious practices.

“Title VII is clear that the employer must accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of the employee, unless the employer can prove the accommodation would cause undue hardship,” Stepanovich said. “The company may claim that its collective bargaining agreement is the reason for not accommodating Virts, but they have refused to even consider options for Virts.”

Virts is seeking $150,000 in damages for the three weeks he was unemployed. Virts was rehired by the company without his seniority.