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National Federation of the Blind sued for discrimination

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has accused the National Federation of the Blind of firing an employee who said he could not work on Saturdays for religious reasons.

Joseph R. Massey II was hired for a bookkeeping position at the Baltimore-based nonprofit in November 2013, according to the lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Massey is a practicing Hebrew Pentecostal, a Christian denomination whose followers honor the Sabbath by not working from sunset on Fridays through sunset on Saturdays.

In January 2014, shortly after he began working for the organization, Massey was told he would be required to work on certain Saturdays. Massey told his employer about his religious limitations and “attempted to engage in a dialogue” to identify possible accommodations for his request, such as working on Sundays or working late on weeknights, the lawsuit states. But he was terminated that month because of his schedule restrictions, according to the lawsuit.

“Most religious accommodations are not unduly costly, such as allowing an employee to switch his schedule to observe his Sabbath,” EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence said in a statement. “No employee should be forced to choose between earning a living and following the dictates of his faith.”

National Federation of the Blind LogoA spokesman for the nonprofit did not immediately return phone call and email requests for comment Monday on the lawsuit.

The National Federation of the Blind is an advocacy organization with 50,000 members and affiliates in all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, according to its website. The organization offers information and referral services, as well as aids and adaptive equipment for the blind. It also advocates for civil rights protections and development of new technology to aid the blind.

The organization is often a plaintiff in discrimination lawsuits. Last year, for example, it sued to require the Maryland State Board of Elections to implement an online ballot-marking system to protect the privacy of blind voters. The organization also sued the Law School Admissions Council in 2009 to force the council, which administers the LSAT, to provide full access for the blind to its website.

The lawsuit filed on Massey’s behalf seeks back pay with interest, as well as unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. The suit also requests an order compelling the National Federation of the Blind to carry out policies, practices and programs that provide equal employment opportunities and post a notice informing employees that the nonprofit will not discriminate on the basis of religion.

“Employees should not have to choose between their jobs and their religious convictions when a religious accommodation will not unduly burden others,” said Spencer H. Lewis Jr., director of the EEOC’s Philadelphia district, which includes Maryland.

The case is U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. National Federation of the Blind, 1:15-cv-02484-GLR.

About Lauren Kirkwood

Lauren Kirkwood covers the business of law beat at The Daily Record.