EEOC Sues Hank’s Furniture For Religious Discrimination In Pensacola After Denied COVID-19 Vaccine Exemption

September 20, 2023

Arkansas-based Hank’s Furniture, Inc., a retail seller of home furniture with stores in four states, violated federal law by refusing to accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs of an assistant store manager in Pensacola and then firing her, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

According to the EEOC’s suit, in 2021, Hank’s Furniture implemented a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy. When Pensacola assistant store manager Kaitlyn M. O’Neal requested an accommodation exempting her from the requirement due to her Christian beliefs, her store manager and immediate supervisor informed her that the company would strip her of her management position if she refused to comply with the policy, no matter the reason. Despite her verbal and written requests for a religious accommodation, which the EEOC says Hank’s Furniture could have honored without undue hardship, the company denied her requests and terminated her employment.

This alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits an employer from failing to accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs absent undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Pensacola after its Mobile office completed an investigation and first attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process. The EEOC seeks monetary damages for the terminated employee, including back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief to prevent such unlawful conduct in the future.

“Federal law requires employers to accommodate sincerely held religious beliefs if reasonable accommodation can be made without causing undue burden to the business,” said EEOC Birmingham District Director Bradley Anderson.

Marsha Rucker, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Birmingham District, said, “This suit should remind employers they must communicate with employees requesting accommodation for religious beliefs and try to accommodate those beliefs whenever reasonably possible. The Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Groff v. DeJoy is illustrative of this point.”


33 Responses to “EEOC Sues Hank’s Furniture For Religious Discrimination In Pensacola After Denied COVID-19 Vaccine Exemption”

  1. David Huie Green on September 24th, 2023 10:15 pm

    “Biblically, our bodies are temples and we should not put drugs or foreign materials into them. We are also supposed to trust in God, not man, for healing.”

    Actually, the Bible doesn’t require people to not treat the ailing. Recall Christ telling about The Good Samaritan treating the wounds of the man robbed and beaten. Paul recommended Timothy take a little wine for his stomach. Note that the active ingredient in wine is the drug ethanol.

    Sorry, just felt compelled to disagree with those who wouldn’t treat their children or elders or neighbors when they have God-given brains and instructions telling them to care for the sick.

    David for mental health too

  2. David Huie Green on September 24th, 2023 7:11 pm

    “Vaccines are made from fetal cell lines from aborted fetuses used in”
    followed by:
    “Vaccines are not “made from fetal cell lines from aborted fetuses”. Whoever told you that was either lying or misinformed.”
    followed by:
    “@Bob,…The CDC did.”
    “COVID-19 vaccines do NOT contain ingredients like preservatives, tissues (like aborted fetal cells), antibiotics, food proteins, medicines, latex, or metals.”

    Fight on.

  3. Just Saying on September 22nd, 2023 7:37 pm


    The CDC did.

  4. Bob on September 22nd, 2023 2:05 pm

    @Just Saying

    Just wait for Hank’s Furniture to clap back with “The Bible forbids us from associating with people who are unclean, so preventing us from firing this manager would be a violation of our religious freedom”. :P

    …and no. Vaccines are not “made from fetal cell lines from aborted fetuses”. Whoever told you that was either lying or misinformed.

  5. Don cooper on September 21st, 2023 8:38 pm

    I have had all of the COVID shots I wore a mask all the time. I did not get covid. something worked huh, put that in your pipe and smoke it. I BELIEVE. EITHER I AM IMMUNE OR THE VACCINATIONS WORKED.

  6. Just Saying on September 21st, 2023 6:40 pm

    @Bob, Alice Alexander, Lisa Watson and Lou,

    Biblically, our bodies are temples and we should not put drugs or foreign materials into them. We are also supposed to trust in God, not man, for healing. Vaccines are made from fetal cell lines from aborted fetuses used in research and testing, so Christians are also expressing their disapproval of abortions.

    Me for clarity

  7. Becky on September 21st, 2023 3:55 pm

    I grew up in a very religious household (Christian), and we read the Bible cover to cover every year. Somehow, I don’t remember seeing anything in the Bible against vaccines. Leaving my opinion of the vaccines out of this, I don’t know of a single Biblically-backed reason that a Christian could use to justify a religious exemption from a vaccine mandate.

  8. Bob on September 21st, 2023 10:50 am

    @Alice Alexander

    I was scratching my head when I read your comment! Nice to see we’re on the same page :)

  9. Alice Alexander on September 21st, 2023 6:49 am

    Bob, I agree with you!!! My previous comment was meant for Mike Honcho. I apologize for my mistake!

  10. Alice Alexander on September 21st, 2023 6:47 am

    Bob, the vaccines don’t make it impossible to get Covid, they make it less likely. More importantly, their value is in keeping people from becoming severely ill or dying. They also reduce the production of the virus, so the infected person is less likely to pass the disease around.
    My husband has five of the risk factors for dying if he gets Covid, so being up to date on the vaccines allows us to go in public with less worry that it will kill him. Every individual I know of who has died from Covid either died before the vaccines were available, or refused to get the vaccine based on fear of vaccines. I don’t think my anecdotal experience means much, but since you cited one data point as if it proved something, I thought I’d throw that in.

  11. Bob on September 21st, 2023 12:47 am

    @Mike Honcho

    Again: the COVID vaccine, just like any other vaccine, increases your body’s ability to fight off an infection. It reduces your symptoms and transmission rate. Jill Biden survived both of her bouts with COVID with minimal symptoms. It sounds like the vaccine is doing exactly what it was designed to do.

  12. Mike Honcho on September 20th, 2023 9:26 pm

    Ask Jill Biden if the “so called vaccine” works. She got every jab she could, then got covid again.

  13. Grady Smith on September 20th, 2023 7:30 pm

    I managed to duck the Anthrax Vaccine, had a friend in Immunization Clinic. I was only a month out from retirement.

    I do not trust the government or pharmacology/immunology of todays Amerika.

    I wish the nice lady good luck.

  14. Enough on September 20th, 2023 7:06 pm

    This is a no brained, ask yourself, would the government let millions of people come into our country without being vaccinated? If they would it must not be a big deal. Nothing to worry about.

  15. Lisa Watson on September 20th, 2023 6:49 pm

    Nothing in the bible against taking a vaccine….

  16. Bob on September 20th, 2023 4:10 pm

    @Common Sense

    Over a million Americans have died of COVID-19. That’s far too many. Please stop spreading blatant misinformation that will get more people killed.

    The COVID vaccine is not a “so called” vaccine. It’s a vaccine. Like any other vaccine, it increases your body’s ability to identify and respond to an infection. The vaccine is effective at reducing both your symptoms and your transmission rate. The side effects of receiving the vaccine are several orders of magnitude safer than the symptoms of COVID-19.

    As for the manager in this story, if she doesn’t want to practice basic workplace safety procedures to promote the health and safety of her coworkers and customers, that’s her call. But if her company is unable to provide any accomodations that will allow her to continue practicing her religious beliefs AND continue performing her role, she can (and should) lose her job.

  17. Bewildered on September 20th, 2023 4:04 pm

    A million dollar settlement will shut her up and she will set her religious beliefs aside!! Money mysteriously solves every problem. Hank‘s most likely was under the impression that federal laws override Florida‘s take on this.

  18. Alice Alexander on September 20th, 2023 1:23 pm

    Sedition, you certainly ARE legally responsible in several ways for your impact on others’ health and safety. There are hundreds of laws about disease exposure and other health and safety laws at federal, state, county, and city levels that businesses and their employees must follow, from washing hands to safe temperatures for storing food to signs showing where the floor is wet. When you drive you have to follow laws to keep others safe. You may have an ugly attitude if you like, but you have the same legal responsibilities as the rest of us.

  19. Common Sense on September 20th, 2023 1:15 pm

    @Lou, if you are vaccinated, why do you care if anyone else is? According to the CDC, the mRNA vaccine does not prevent you from getting sick but rather masks symptoms, allowing you to spread to others without knowing you are sick (real vaccines prevent the illness, not just mask the symptoms). It sounds like a very selfish thing to do, not to mention ALL the adverse reactions from the so-called vaccine. I hope Hanks and other companies that forced this BS on their employees pay!! If you are too scared to go out bc you don’t know if everyone has a Covid shot, then you might be happier at home.

  20. Bob on September 20th, 2023 12:52 pm


    Let’s say I work at a BBQ place. Then I convert to a religion that prohibits me from washing my hands. The restaurant has a legal obligation to try to accommodate those beliefs (moving me to a position that does not handle food, providing me with gloves, etc), but if there is no viable way to accommodate me? They are fully within their right to terminate my employment.

    The manager is claiming that there were viable accomodations that the store could have made, but instead chose to fire them.

  21. Bob on September 20th, 2023 12:36 pm


    Do you also support allowing people to drive drunk? After all, if your airbags work, if you believe your seatbelt works, then it shouldn’t matter what others do because you’re “safe”, right?

  22. Ed Magowan on September 20th, 2023 12:03 pm

    It is my sincerely held religious belief that smallpox should be re-introduced to the population…. as should other even more deadly diseases for which vaccines are available. Why are my sincerely held religious beliefs not being accommodated?

  23. Lou on September 20th, 2023 11:41 am

    Religion….probably not. As a member of the public, during the crazy Covid times, I felt more secure entering places of business thinking their employees were vaccinated. I had mandated Covid vaccines administered to keep my job. Give her $1.00 and hope she donates it to her church.

  24. Resident too on September 20th, 2023 11:13 am

    “@ Will” does not allow discrimination of any kind by federal Law. period!

  25. Jlb on September 20th, 2023 10:57 am

    I bet she wasn’t forced to take flu shot! I bet they don’t have a list of other vaccine they need to work there. As adults what vaccine we CHOOSE TO TAKE is our decision. The covid vaccine didn’t stop you from getting covid or help stop spreading it…hope she wins..

  26. JC on September 20th, 2023 9:50 am

    @Resident…If your mask works, if you believe your vaccine works, then it shouldn’t matter what others do because you’re “safe”, right? Get your shot and 47 boosters if you choose, but I’m not playing this political game nor buying into the hysteria that results from it.

  27. bob on September 20th, 2023 9:42 am

    Resident – I think the issue is the reason for the termination. Florida is an “at will” state but you have to be careful and not terminate an employee based on Constitutional rights. They should have terminated her for having a “bad attitude” instead.

    T Gales, Denbroc – Unfortunately, I think the military is exempt from the EEOC. Maybe first responders have filed motions that have not made it through the courts yet?

  28. Sedition on September 20th, 2023 9:18 am

    I am in no way, shape, or form responsible for other people’s health safety. That’s entirely on the individual worried about their health.
    Afraid you’ll catch a sniffle? Stay at home.

  29. Bob on September 20th, 2023 8:46 am

    @Denbroc and T Gales

    No. Because when you join the military, you agree to get vaccinated against all common illnesses. That’s why they give you like 20 different inoculations during boot camp. If you refuse to adhere to the contract you signed, you can (and will) be dismissed.

    Florida *is* an at-will state, but that is not an exemption for discriminating against protected classes. There is nothing in the Bible prohibiting vaccination, but if that manager followed some other religion that forbade them from getting vaccinated? And their store chose to fire them when they could have been accommodated (like having them work from home instead of in a customer facing role), then it sounds like the store did violate their religious rights.

  30. David Huie Green on September 20th, 2023 8:45 am

    “Is Florida not an “at will” state?”

    This is a question of federal law rather than state law.

  31. Resident on September 20th, 2023 7:21 am

    Is Florida not an “at will” state? Your religious beliefs have nothing to do with your job, or other people’s health safety.

  32. T Gales on September 20th, 2023 6:25 am

    Where is the EEOC when our nations First Responders and US Service Members were terminated for the same?

  33. Denbroc on September 20th, 2023 4:52 am

    I wonder if the EEOC will sue the US military on behalf of the service members dismissed for not taking the vaccine?