The director of operations of a Subway franchisee, in West Virginia, sent letters to several churches and congregations saying his company was “in need of Christian employees.” I’m sure some people will not see the problem with such a letter, after all a business should be able to make hiring decisions that prefer a particular group of people. Some may think the guy was just trying to reach out to a segment of people to recruit more workers. The problem is that such outreach is actually against state and federal law.
Kermit Ball, the director of operations for Hammond Group Inc., which owns the Subways, sent the letter, publishing employment opportunities at the restaurants. It was sent to at least four churches and congregations in the Charleston and Huntington areas.
The letter, and subsequent statements from Ball, seem to imply that Hammond Group Inc. would prefer to hire Christian employees, finding them more honest.
The letter, in part, reads: “Due to changing times, we are looking for good honest people. If you have anyone in your congregation in need of a job, or new career, please have them contact us at the address provided above. We are looking for sandwich artists, shift managers, assistant managers and supervisers. The Hammond Group owns and operates 20 Subway restaurants. We are a Christian based company and in need of Christian employees.”
When asked about the letter, Ball reiterated its points.
“Robbery and theft in stores is really, really high and we’re trying to find honest people to run registers,” Ball said. “I’m not elaborating on anything, our owners are Christians.”
The letter may have violated state and federal law prohibiting printing “any notice or advertisement relating to employment or membership indicating any preference, limitation, specifications or discrimination based upon race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, disability or age.” The only exemption for the law is if the work is religious in nature – like a church doing the hiring for the church’s work.
It also doesn’t look like Mr. Ball was doing an innocent outreach to some Christians to recruit new workers. He actually believes that people who believe in his “god” are more honest than those who don’t.
Ball’s attempt at discrimination isn’t any different than past attempts where help wanted signs said “Irish Need Not Apply” or when businesses had signs saying it was “Whites Only”.
As for his assertion that Christians are more honest, a simple Google search will take that claim down.
*Update – 08/21/2013*
A reader, Mike, in the comments mentions that discrimination happens all the time in other areas and no cares about that:
The point I made is not that people break the law sometimes, it’s not about breaking the law. It’s about when it matters. It didn’t matter to anyone when a job description in a paper or a public posting online specifically stated they were looking for women or they were looking for people of a certain age. Those are two experiences I’ve personally had. And we know active recruiting is the name of the game. Employers actively recruit for a certain type of person all the time. But, what gets people up in arms? It depends on who is doing it, otherwise people don’t care. It happens to be a Christian looking for Christians. No one cares about a Women-Only business or that Oprah was actively recruiting for writers under 22 when she was putting together her network.
There is an answer to Mike’s concern:
Title VII prohibits discrimination in all terms, conditions, and privileges of employment, including hiring, firing, compensation, benefits, job assignments, promotions, and discipline. Title VII also prohibits practices that seem neutral but have a disproportionate impact on a protected group of people. Such a practice is legal only if the employer has a valid reason for using it. For example, a strength requirement might be legal — even thoughit excludes disproportionate numbers of women — if an employer is using it to fill a job that requires heavy lifting. Such a requirement would not be valid for a desk job, however.
So if an employer is wanting to hire a specific person or group then requirements of the job can only be filled by that specific group. The example used in the quote above is about a job requiring a certain strength. Another one is you wouldn’t have someone under 21 years of age working in a liquor store. Making sandwiches in a fast food place isn’t where you could justify discrimination for religion. Also keep in mind even if there is violation it still takes someone to file a complaint, so if it seems “no one cares” doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong or that the business shouldn’t get in trouble. Some discrimination isn’t as obvious as the Subway case.
Another point reader Mike made is the guy in West Virginia made a mistake by writing the letter and if he would have visited the churches in person he would be okay. The law says no. It is true the issue blew up because there was written proof not to mention his interview, but discrimination based on religion is wrong even if there is no printed flyers, letters, or signs.
Most competent businesses, unfortunately, learn to discriminate for other non-protected reasons such as just not liking the person or not liking their clothes. They might be looking for Christian workers but there are ways of doing it without being obvious and opening one up for lawsuit.