Serrano's wins legal battle with EEOC - East Valley Tribune: Business

Serrano's wins legal battle with EEOC

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Posted: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 5:07 pm | Updated: 2:22 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Chandler-based Serrano's Mexican Restaurants has emerged victorious in an extended court battle over allegations of religious discrimination.

The Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's request for a new trial, affirming a 2005 jury verdict in favor of Serrano's.

In 2002, the EEOC sued Serrano's, claiming it infringed on a manager's religious beliefs when it prohibited her from leading Bible studies for employees she managed.

The company fired Terra Naeve in July 2001 for violating its rule against managers fraternizing with subordinates. But the firing came only after she refused several offers to accommodate her, including a transfer to another restaurant, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court.

"This case is finally over, and the Serranos have prevailed," said Mark Ogden, lead attorney for Serrano's in the case. "The government should have never brought this case in the first place. They have persecuted this company without any justifiable reason for the last six years."

Mary Jo O'Neill, regional attorney with the EEOC, was unavailable for comment on the decision.

After the 2005 verdict in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, the trial judge granted an EEOC request for a new trial, but in 2007 the order was dropped and the verdict was reinstated. The 9th Circuit opinion brings the case to an end.

"Right before the case was to go to trial a second time, that judge recused himself and the case was assigned to a new judge," Ogden said. "We filed a motion for reconsideration with that judge, and that judge vacated the previous judge's order and reinstated the jury's verdict. That part of it went up to the 9th Circuit."

Ogden said Serrano's spend hundreds of thousands of dollars defending itself in the suit.

"This is about as much confirmation as anyone is ever going to get in the American legal system," he said.

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