Mini Price Storage, which operates more than 20 self-storage properties in Virginia, was ordered by a judge this week to pay former employee Sean Mohammed $150,730 in back pay as well as attorneys’ fees and court costs for alleged “improper firing.” U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson ruled Mohammed, a Seventh-Day Adventist, was fired in retaliation for his refusal to work during Sabbath hours, from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.
Mini Price hired Mohammed as an assistant manager in 2007. During his interview, Mohammed said he was available to work every day except Saturday. In August 2010, Tashondi Goodman, the company’s new area supervisor, scheduled Mohammed to work on Saturdays, according to sources. He declined, and his schedule was reverted to the original arrangement.
Following the schedule conflict, Goodman initiated numerous conversations and e-mails with the company’s human-resources manager about Mohammed’s job performance, including one that cited “lack of performance and lack of work” as a reason to terminate him, according to a source. Mohammed was dismissed in January 2011.
Judge Jackson found Goodman’s reasons for the termination implausible. “The preponderance of the evidence establishes that these proffered reasons are pretextual,” the judge said, noting several mystery-shop evaluations from 2008 to 2010 that deemed Mohammed an “excellent” employee. One evaluation described him as “providing the best experience across all of Mini Price,” the judge noted.
Goodman wasn’t able to stick to one story during her disposition or court proceedings, Wilkenfeld said, adding that the review form Goodman used to document Mohammed’s work performance wasn’t used for other company employees, the source reported.
The self-storage operator plans to appeal the judge’s decision, according to Lisa Bertini, an attorney representing the company. “My client has existed as a fair and non-discriminatory employer for many years and, frankly, the decision made in this case is incorrect,” she said in a statement. “We wish Mr. Mohammed well, but he worked here for four years with every accommodation and was let go for reasons that were properly before the court and in no way retaliatory.”
“The results are very gratifying. This is life-changing for him,” Ari Wilkenfeld, one of Mohammed’s lawyers, told the source. Since being dismissed in 2011, Mohammed has struggled to find employment and is now in debt, Wilkenfeld said.
The Mini Price case is one of many brought against U.S. companies by Seventh-Day Adventist employees seeking to protect their freedom to worship, the “Adventist Review” reported. Lawsuits have been filed by an air-traffic controller, a Dunkin’ Donuts worker and several federal employees.
Mini Price Storage operates facilities in Chesapeake, Chesterfield County, Henrico County, Norfolk, Richmond and Virginia Beach, Va.
- Adventist Review: Adventist Awarded $150,000 Over Sabbath Dismissal
- PilotOnline.com: Judge: Virginia Beach Business Fired Seventh Day Adventist Improperly