Fired auto plant worker files federal suit claiming religious discrimination

Wednesday, July 1, 1998

Officials at an automotive plant in Tennessee have been sued after firing an employee who, for religious reasons, wore a dress to work instead of pants.

Charlene McCormic, a member of the Pentecostal Holiness Church, worked at the Robert Bosch Corp., in Gallatin before being fired in April. Her lawsuit claims that she was fired for wearing a dress instead of pants. McCormic sued the Illinois-based company last week, claiming it violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The federal law states that employers—private or government—cannot discriminate against employees because of their religion and must accommodate these religious beliefs unless the employer can demonstrate that doing so would cause “undue hardship” on the operations of the employer's business. Title VII was enacted by Congress to prevent employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of race, color, religion, gender or national origin.

Glenn McColpin, McCormic's lawyer, said that the company violated the federal law by not making any attempts to accommodate McCormic's religious practices.

“The company must prove that allowing her to continue wearing a dress would cause undue hardship to the operations,” McColpin said. “Her religion says she can't wear pants. Her supervisors, however, just walked in and fired her without attempting any accommodation. She was discriminated against because of her religion.”

McColpin said that days before McCormic was fired she was assigned to labeling automotive parts in an area away from plant machinery. McColpin said McCormic should have been allowed to stay in the area.

Asked if the dress related to safety concerns at the plant, Becky MacDonald, spokeswoman for Bosch, said the company does not comment on litigation.

MacDonald, however, said the company is “an equal opportunity employer that feels strongly about not discriminating against people based on race, gender, national origin, veteran status and religion.”

The Bosch company distributes auto parts worldwide and built its first American-based plant in 1909. The company distributes automotive equipment such as brakes, fuel-injectors and driver information systems.

McCormic said that she adheres to a commandment from God to wear a dress.

“I believe it is a sin to wear pants and that is God's word,” McCormic said. “God's word does not change—man does. I believe what the Bible says, word for word.”

In particular, McCormic said she believes only the words of the King James version of the Bible.

McCormic cited a passage from Deuteronomy, an Old Testament book, as God's order to women not to wear pants:

“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.”

McCormic said the members of her Gallatin church support her federal claim against the company.

“They believe in the word and they know what I'm doing is right and God knows what I'm doing is right,” she said. “There was no way I was going to put on a pair of pants.”