(CNSNews.com) -- Two Muslim truck drivers were awarded $240,000 by a federal jury in Peoria, Illinois last month after they were fired for refusing to deliver beer because they claimed that doing so would violate their religious beliefs.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued Morton, Ill.-based Star Transport in May, 2013 on behalf of the two Somalis, Mahad Abass Mohamed and Abdkiarim Hassan Bulshale, for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination on the basis of religion.
Mohamed and Bulshale were each awarded $20,000 in compensatory damages, $100,000 in punitive damages, and $1,500 in back pay.
"Our investigation revealed that Star could have readily avoided assigning these employees to alcohol delivery without any undue hardship, but chose to force the issue despite the employees' Islamic religion," said EEOC District Director John P. Rowe when the suit was filed.
EEOC attorney June Calhoun argued that the company’s decision to fire the truckers caused them “catastrophic” damages.
"This is an awesome outcome,” Calhoun said. “Star Transport failed to provide any discrimination training to its human resources personnel, which led to catastrophic results for these employees. They suffered real injustice that needed to be addressed.
“By this verdict, the jury remedied the injustice by sending clear messages to Star Transport and other employers that they will be held accountable for their unlawful employment practices. Moreover, they signaled to Mr. Mohamed and Mr. Bulshale that religious freedom is a right for all Americans."
"Everyone has a right to observe his or her religious beliefs, and employers don't get to pick and choose which religions and which religious practices they will accommodate,” said John Hendrickson, regional attorney for the EEOC's Chicago District office.
“If an employer can reasonably accommodate an employee's religious practice without an undue hardship, then it must do so. That is a principle which has been memorialized in federal employment law for almost 50 years, and it is why EEOC is in this case."
However, Star Transport went out of business earlier this year and it remains unclear how the former truckers will get their money.