Company's 'Tolerance' Clause Prompts Religious Discrimination Lawsuit

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - A Denver man is suing AT&T Broadband after he was fired for refusing to sign off on "tolerance" portions of the company's employee handbook that he felt violated his religious beliefs.

The handbook contained a provision that "each person at AT&T Broadband is charged with the responsibility to fully recognize, respect and value the differences among all of us," including "sexual orientation."

Albert Buonanno said his religious beliefs prevented him from condoning or approving of homosexuality.

Attorneys for the Rutherford Institute are presenting testimony in federal court in Washington on behalf of Buonanno, who worked as a quota specialist. His lawyers are seeking back pay and punitive damages.

"Federal and state law prohibits employers from discriminating against their employees based on religion," said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute.

"AT&T Broadband's policy goes too far by demanding that their employees forswear their religious values in the name of tolerance.

"This is just one case among many in which employees are being wrongfully denied accommodation and the right to freedom of conscience because of their religious beliefs - rights guaranteed both under federal law and under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," Whitehead added.

One year after Buonanno started working for AT&T, the company published a new employee handbook, including the "tolerance for homosexuals" provision, and employees were required to sign a written acknowledgment that they received it, along with a "Certificate of Understanding."

The Certificate contained a statement that the employee signing it "agreed with and accepted" all of the terms and provisions of the handbook, including its policies and rules.

Buonanno informed his supervisor of his concerns, saying he could not sign the statement. But he said he had no problem declaring that he would not discriminate against or harass people who were different, including homosexuals.

On Jan. 31, 2001, Buonanno gave his written statement and the unsigned certificate to his supervisor, who alerted the company's human resources representative. When Buonanno went to work the next day, the human resources representative told him the company would fire him if he refused to sign the certificate.

When Buonanno explained his proposed accommodation to the human resources representative, she informed him that his continued employment at AT&T is contingent upon his signature. Buonanno refused to sign the certificate and was immediately terminated.

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