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July 20, 2001
Worker Wins Sabbath Suit
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ederal jury in Denver has awarded a former air traffic controller $2.25 million after finding that he was the victim of intentional religious discrimination by his employer, according to the Rocky Mountain News.

"In a land where people sometimes question whether the term 'justice' has any meaning, I'm here to state that it still exists," a teary-eyed Don Reed said after the verdict.

The jury said the Federal Aviation Administration, the agency that employed Reed in the Pueblo, Colorado, airport tower, failed to accommodate his religious beliefs about not working on the Sabbath.

Reed's nondenominational Christian church observes the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

According to testimony, Reed's bosses allowed him to have that time off without argument for several years - until new boss George Hof challenged Reed's faith, at one point shouting at him that it was a scam and a "religion of convenience."

Hof rejected several compromise plans offered by Reed and his co-workers.

In the summer of 1995, Hof insisted that Reed work six Saturdays in a row . When Reed failed to report to work on those days, he fired him.

The jury awarded Reed $248,356 in back pay and benefits, $508,088 for future pay and benefits, and $1.5 million for emotional pain and suffering, inconvenience and mental anguish.

In addition, Reed's lawyers will be awarded fees and costs, estimated at about $100,000.

The case was initiated on Reed's behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Federal officials said that they were disappointed by the verdict and will review their appeal options.

They had contended that Hof couldn't accommodate Reed's Sabbath observance for the following reasons: The agency was short-staffed, the safety of the flying public had to be protected, preference shouldn't be shown for one employee over others, and union contracts couldn't be violated - even though, in Reed's case, the union worked to obtain religious accommodation for him.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Pestal, who defended the federal government in the civil suit, told Judge Edward Nottingham that federal law doesn't allow the $1.5 million portion of the award for emotional and mental suffering. He claimed the law caps such damages at $300,000. Nottingham told Pestal he could file a motion to reduce it.

Reed now works for a cable television company in Pueblo, arranging for local commercials to be inserted in national programming.

To view the Rocky Mountain News article, click here.

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