Driver Forced to Deliver Porn, Bias Lawsuit Alleges

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By Patrick Dorrian

A magazine delivery driver in Kansas was required to deliver pornographic materials despite his religious objection and an arrangement he had with his prior employer, a lawsuit filed in federal court alleges ( Scott v. Cowley Distrib., Inc. , D. Kan., No. 2:16-cv-02831, complaint filed 12/23/16 ).

Federal law generally obligates employers to accommodate workers’ religious beliefs or practices when they conflict with a work rule or requirement. An exception from the general rule is granted where an employer can show providing a religious accommodation would impose an undue hardship on its business operations.

James Scott Sr. says he had a deal with Anderson News since 2004 relieving him of any requirement to touch pornographic material. After Cowley Distributing Inc. took over Anderson’s operations in 2009, however, he was told that deal was “null and void,” according to Scott.

He vehemently objected to Cowley’s decision to no longer honor his religious accommodation, Scott contends, and he was told he “needed to meet them half way.” His attempts to meet with company owner John Cowley to discuss the situation were rebuffed, Scott says in his complaint against Cowley filed Dec. 23 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas.

Scott also was unable to attend a religious convention after being threatened with termination if he went, according to his complaint. Further, he was unfairly disciplined when his vehicle’s GPS system showed he had attended another religious ceremony, Scott says.

Complaint Also Claims Race Bias

Cowley subjected him and other black employees to a hostile work environment based on race, Scott contends. The race bias also includes disparate treatment in opportunities for promotion and other terms of employment, he says. There are no blacks in Cowley upper management in the company’s Lenexa, Kan., and Jefferson, Mo., offices, the complaint asserts.

The company further locked Scott’s GPS system with an object that reminded Scott of a noose and brought back memories of the lynching of his mother’s uncle and harassment he experienced in high school, including being called the N-word, Scott alleges.

The unfair write-up remains in his personnel file, and the lock remains on his GPS system despite his challenging both actions, including in a “strongly worded” 24-page written grievance, according to Scott.

Scott was subjected to retaliatory discipline when he complained, according to his complaint. Moreover, his report to the company that he and other black workers believed a Cowley supervisor to be a racist apparently was relayed to the supervisor, who later said to Scott, “We like to keep the blacks separate, right James!”

White Cowley employees engaged in a racist dialogue on social media, which Cowley failed to remedy, the complaint asserts. The lawsuit includes claims under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (42 U.S.C. § 1981).

The company didn’t respond Dec. 27 to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment.

Scott represents himself. No attorney had filed an appearance yet for Cowley.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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