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City of Lansing agrees to consent decree to settle DOJ lawsuit over religious discrimination

Exterior of Lansing City Hall
Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio
Lansing City Hall

The City of Lansing and the U.S. Justice Department have entered into a consent decree over the federal government's lawsuit alleging the city discriminated against an employee who is a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The lawsuit said Sylvia Coleman was unfairly fired from her job as a detention officer in 2018, just days after she was offered the position.

That's because she said she couldn't work shifts during her church's Sabbath, which is sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

Todd McFarland, an attorney with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, said Lansing has agreed to pay Coleman $50,000 in back pay and damages. The decree also requires the city to redraft its policies regarding religious discrimination and accommodation and to conduct training sessions on the policies.

"The most important thing for us is that no one else has to go through this," McFarland said. "The city of Lansing doesn't get sued and no one gets fired for their religious belief, and we think that's the best outcome for everyone."

The consent decree requires the city to drop its countersuit against Coleman, in which it claimed she had agreed to be "flexible" on work hours.

"She never misled them," McFarland said. "She told them from day one that she was a Seventh-day Adventist and that she needed to be accommodated."

As part of the consent decree, the city does not admit to any wrongdoing.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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