CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The director of operations of 20 Subway restaurants across West Virginia may have violated the state Human Rights Act when he sent a letter to several churches and congregations saying his company was "in need of Christian employees."
Kermit Ball, the director of operations for Hammond Group Inc., which owns the Subways, sent the letter, publishing employment opportunities at the restaurants. It was sent to at least four churches and congregations in the Charleston and Huntington areas.
The letter, and subsequent statements from Ball, seem to imply that Hammond Group Inc. would prefer to hire Christian employees, finding them more honest.
The letter, in part, reads: "Due to changing times, we are looking for good honest people. If you have anyone in your congregation in need of a job, or new career, please have them contact us at the address provided above. We are looking for sandwich artists, shift managers, assistant managers and supervisers. The Hammond Group owns and operates 20 Subway restaurants. We are a Christian based company and in need of Christian employees."
When asked about the letter, Ball reiterated its points.
"Robbery and theft in stores is really, really high and we're trying to find honest people to run registers," Ball said. "I'm not elaborating on anything, our owners are Christians."
The local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union thinks that the letter violates the state Human Rights Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating in hiring based on an applicant's religion.
"It's clear to me that it's a violation of the Human Rights Act," said Paul Sheridan, interim director of the West Virginia ACLU. "I hope somebody would look into it."
The West Virginia Human Rights Act bars employers from printing materials that express a preference for potential employees' religions.
The law reads: "It shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice ... For any employer, employment agency or labor organization, prior to the employment or membership, to: print or publish or cause to be printed or published any notice or advertisement relating to employment or membership indicating any preference, limitation, specifications or discrimination based upon race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, disability or age."
Federal law also contains similar prohibitions.
Section VII of the federal Civil Rights Act reads: "It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer...to print or publish or cause to be printed or published any notice or advertisement...indicating any preference, limitation, specification, or discrimination, based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin."
Both state and federal laws allow for religious exemptions if there is a "bona fide occupational qualification for employment." For instance, churches and religious nonprofit groups may consider religion when hiring.
Those exemptions would not seem to cover the Hammond Group, which was established as a for-profit corporation in 1994, according to the Secretary of State's Office.