Division on Civil Rights Announces Settlement of Claim That Auto Parts Retailer Engaged in Religious Bias – Worker Alleged His Hours Were Cut After Asking Off on Jewish Holidays

TRENTON – Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Division on Civil Rights announced today that Advance Auto Parts, a national auto parts chain with nearly 100 stores in New Jersey, has agreed to pay a former employee $10,000 and implement new anti-discrimination training to resolve allegations that it cut the worker’s hours because he asked for time off to observe his Jewish faith.

Ron Michael Lerner, who worked part-time, alleged in a complaint filed with the Division that his supervisors at the Advance Auto Parts store in Hazlet, Monmouth County, failed to accommodate his religious beliefs and practices.

Specifically, Lerner alleged that he was scheduled for fewer shifts each week after he advised that he was unable to work on Jewish holidays and, due to his observation of the Jewish Sabbath, also was unavailable to work on Fridays after sundown and on Saturdays.

Under the settlement agreement, Advance Auto will not only pay Lerner, of Old Bridge, $10,000, but also implement a number of policy reforms and training requirements designed to ensure that all management employees are aware of the protocol for handling religious accommodation requests, and that company supervisors engage in an “interactive process” with workers who request such consideration.

“This settlement is an important one beyond the dollars, because it calls for policy reforms, new training and heightened awareness among both management and line employees within the company,” said Attorney General Porrino. “This case should serve as a reminder to employers across New Jersey that being sensitive to the religious beliefs and observances of employees is not only the right thing to do, it is the law.”

“The promise of religious freedom means, at a minimum, that our fellow citizens should not have to choose between their faith and supporting their families. In New Jersey, employers are required to accommodate the sincerely held religious practices of their employees, unless doing so would cause an undue hardship,” said Division on Civil Rights Director Craig Sashihara. 

Sashihara noted that the New Jersey statute defines “undue hardship” for purposes of religious accommodation analysis as an “accommodation requiring unreasonable expense or difficulty, unreasonable interference with the safe or efficient operation of the workplace, a violation of a bona fide seniority system, or a violation of any provision of a collective bargaining agreement.”

“In this case, our investigation found that the employer did not make a good faith attempt to try to accommodate Mr. Lerner,” Sashihara said.

Headquartered in Roanoke, VA, Advance Auto Parts operates 99 stores in New Jersey and employs more than 900 workers, including approximately 175 managers.

Under the settlement, Advance Auto Parts must:

Lerner filed a complaint with the Division on Civil Rights after learning he’d been scheduled to work only one shift per week – on Sundays – despite having worked a schedule of three-to-four shifts weekly.

The Sunday-only schedule allegedly was presented to Lerner after he asked not to be scheduled to work on Friday evenings or on Saturdays – so he could observe the Sabbath – and also presented his supervisor with a list of Jewish holidays for the year that he could not work.

Deputy Attorney General Farng-Yi D. Foo, of the Division of Law’s Civil Rights Section, and Investigator Jessica Gallicchio handled the Advance Auto matter on behalf of the State. 

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