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Judge reinstates religious discrimination lawsuit against ACS, CitiGroup

Update: Victory!
CitiGroup settles religious discrimination lawsuit

GREENEVILLE - A federal judge has reinstated Carletta Sims' religious discrimination lawsuit against Associates Commerce Solutions and CitiGroup. Sims, the Tennessee director of American Atheists Inc., filed a $250,000 lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greeneville in December 2001 claiming she was discharged from the company because she is an atheist.

Sims began working at the former ACS facility, located at 541 Sid Martin Road in Gray, on June 21, 2000. Since that time, ACS sold the property to CitiGroup. The lawsuit stemmed from an incident in which two female co-workers allegedly became openly hostile toward Sims after she showed them her business card.

The two women complained and were granted a request to be moved away from Sims. The lawsuit claims a picture of Jesus was posted on Sims' computer two days after the incident.

After Sims complained about the picture, her supervisor, Russell Rogers, dismissed her on the grounds that she was being a disturbance. In May, U.S. District Judge Thomas Hull dismissed Sims' lawsuit on the grounds that the decision to discharge Sims was made on inaccurate information and not done intentionally on the basis of her atheistic beliefs. Sims' attorney, Charlton DeVault, filed a motion requesting Hull reinstate the lawsuit for trial.

DeVault argued that management at ACS afforded preferential treatment to the two women, who are Baptists, by granting their request to change workstations. DeVault further argued that the ACS human resource department failed to conduct an objective investigation and that incorrect and incomplete facts were reported to Russell.

On Monday, Hull granted DeVault's request. "Religious discrimination (or preferential treatment of Christians) can be inferred and the trier of fact should be allowed to draw that inference," Hull wrote in his order. "The court has reconsidered the facts and does believe that an inference of discriminatory intent could be drawn from the facts now before it."

Hull set a trial date for Sept. 30. DeVault said he and his client are relieved and pleased with Hull's decision to reinstate the lawsuit.

"We think that the court correctly reconsidered its opinion in light of the facts that the company failed to follow its own human resource reporting procedures," said DeVault. "When the Baptists complained about Sims, they were moved. But when Sims complained about the picture, she was fired.

"The preferential treatment was obvious."

- By Matthew Lane

Date Published: July 24, 2003

Copyright 2003, Kingsport Publishing Corporation.

Judge dismisses discrimination suit filed by local atheist

By Matthew Lane

Kingsport Times-News June 02, 2003

GREENEVILLE - A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Carletta Sims, the Tennessee director of American Atheists Inc., who sued Associates Commerce Solutions claiming the company fired her because she is an atheist. Carletta Sims filed the $250,000 lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greeneville in December 2001 on the grounds of religious discrimination.

According to the lawsuit, Sims began working at the former ACS facility, located at 541 Sid Martin Road in Gray, on June 21, 2000. Since that time, ACS sold the property to Citi Commerce Solutions. Sims said she was placed at the Gray facility by Snelling Personnel Services and was classified as a temporary employee.

In July 2000 during a break at ACS, Sims claims two female co-workers learned that she was an atheist and became openly hostile toward her. CCS argued that Sims handed two female co-workers a business card identifying herself as the Tennessee director of American Atheists.

The two women became "greatly" upset and reported the incident to their supervisor, saying Sims gave them literature on atheism, CCS said. Two days after this incident, Sims said she returned from a work break and noticed that a sketched likeness of Jesus Christ had been taped to her computer monitor.

On July 18, ACS terminated Sims' position, the complaint states. Sims said an agent of Snelling carried ACS' message to her and advised her that the temporary position was no longer available.

In March, CCS filed a response to Sims' lawsuit and asked for the complaint to be dismissed. Company officials said the decision to remove Sims from her position was that she had disrupted collections and that her manager did not know anything about the picture when he made that decision.

On May 23, U.S. District Judge Thomas Hull dismissed Sims' lawsuit. "Sims' revelation that she was an atheist did, in fact, cause a disruption in the workplace - two workers in her department insisted on being moved away from her," Hull wrote in his order. "Considering the fact that she was only a temporary worker, that conduct was sufficient to warrant her discharge."

However, Hull wrote that Russell Rogers, the operations vice president who ultimately made the decision to remove Sims, was misinformed about the whole incident.

"Rogers had been given only partial information which made Sims look like the instigator of a disturbance," Hull wrote. "In fact, Sims gave no literature about atheism, but only showed her business card to the Baptist twin sisters. They however misinformed their own supervisor ... and arguably it was they who caused the disturbance."

Hull wrote that it was someone other than Sims who actually introduced inflammatory "literature" into the workplace by placing the Jesus picture with the message about forgiveness on her computer. "The mere fact that Rogers may have made a mistake does not turn his discharge decision into intentional discrimination against an atheist," Hull wrote. "A discharge on the basis of inaccurate information, with no evidence of intent on anybody's part to mislead the decision-maker, cannot give rise to liability."

Copyright 2003 Kingsport Times-News.

Atheist files suit against Associates Commerce Solutions claiming wrongful termination

By MATTHEW LANE

GREENEVILLE - The Tennessee director of American Atheists Inc. is suing her former employer, Associates Commerce Solutions, claiming the company fired her because she is an atheist. Carletta Sims filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greeneville this month naming ACS as the defendant. According to the lawsuit, Sims began working at the former ACS facility, located at 541 Sid Martin Road in Gray, on June 21, 2000. Sims said she was placed at the Gray facility by Snelling Personnel Services and was classified as a temporary employee.

In July 2000 during a break at ACS, Sims claims two female co-workers learned that she was an atheist and became openly hostile toward her. "They commented how their father, a local Baptist minister, would be upset if he learned they had talked to Sims," the complaint states. Two days later, Sims claims that she returned from a work break and noticed that a sketched likeness of Jesus Christ had been taped to her computer monitor. "When Sims showed the taped sketch to one of her supervisors, the supervisor remarked: 'How nice,'" the complaint states. "Sims responded that it might not be that nice since she was an atheist."

On July 18, ACS terminated Sims' position, the complaint states. Sims claims an agent of Snelling carried ACS's message to her and advised her that the temporary position was no longer available. Sims claims she was unable to locate comparable employment for months and has not been able to secure any regular permanent employment in the area. "In the meantime, other individuals who began as temporary employees with ACS have become permanent employees with the company," the complaint states.

Sims claims that ACS terminated her from her position because she is an atheist, because she offended fundamental religious employees by her presence, and because she objected to having a religious figure's likeness being taped to her computer monitor. "In order to cover up its discriminatory and retaliatory termination, ACS has claimed that Sims created a disruption at work," the complaint states.

Sims states she has exhausted her federal administrative remedies and has received a right-to-sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Sims is asking for $250,000 in compensatory damages and reinstatement to a permanent position. The ACS facility, along with its parent company Associates First Capital, was purchased last year by CitiGroup. CitiGroup renamed the Gray facility Citi Commerce Solutions.

Maria Mendler, spokeswoman for CitiGroup, said she could not comment on Sims' lawsuit. "CitiGroup does not tolerate discrimination at any time, and we're fully committed to offering an equal employment opportunity," Mendler said. "But because it's pending litigation, I can't comment on the lawsuit."

Published December 27, 2001

Copyright 2001 Kingsport Times-News.

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