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AutoZone Settles Religious Discrimination Suit With Winthrop Man

BOSTON — National auto parts retailer AutoZone has agreed to pay $75,000 to a Winthrop man to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit.

According to 24-year-old Frank Mahoney Burroughs, of Winthrop, the problems started after he converted to Sikhism while working at an AutoZone in Everett in 2009.

Managers at the store would not let him wear a turban and kara (bracelet), required of male Sikhs, Mahoney Burroughs said. They also harassed him by asking if he had joined al-Qaida and whether he was a terrorist.

“Even human resources, they weren’t very helpful,” Mahoney Burroughs said. “They suspended me and let the people harassing me keep their jobs and get promotions, and ultimately fired me, which was like a horrible blow to me.”

In conjunction with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Mahoney Burroughs brought a lawsuit against AutoZone, claiming the company violated federal law when it subjected him to harassment and refused to accommodate his religious need to wear a turban.

The lawsuit also accused AutoZone of firing Mahoney Burroughs because of his religion, and in retaliation for asking for an accommodation and complaining about discrimination.

In addition to the financial settlement, AutoZone has agreed to adopt a religious accommodation policy, retrain managers at more than 4,500 stores nationwide, and notify its 65,000 employees of the settlement.

The settlement comes after a federal judge ruled in favor of Mahoney Burroughs and the EEOC, in a summary judgment.

“This is an issue that comes up when there is a dress code, particularly it comes up if the dress code is not justified by some health or safety reason,” said attorney Laura Maslow-Armand, of the Boston chapter of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which represented Mahoney Burroughs. “So this is something that might give pause to other employers.”

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