The United Parcel Service — better known by its initials UPS — is being accused of banning drivers at a shipping center from holding prayer meetings before their shifts. However, the shipping giant contends that a “misunderstanding” has occurred.
The Christian conservative legal nonprofit Liberty Counsel sent a demand letter to UPS’ general counsel last week asking that employees at a shipping center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, be allowed to hold prayer meetings on UPS property.
According to the letter, about 40 drivers began gathering every morning in the UPS parking lot for prayer meetings last July before their 9:15 a.m. shifts.
The gatherings were optional and organized by the drivers on their own free will, the letter explains. Over the months, the group grew to as big as 60.
But on Jan. 16, the center’s manager is alleged to have told an employee who also serves as a union representative that the group "cannot pray anymore on company property because someone else might feel discriminated against," the letter says.
Four days later, on Jan. 20, the center manager is alleged to have told another driver who serves as a union steward that drivers couldn’t pray any longer "on company property because it violates others’ religious rights."
“The following week, the drivers met and did not pray,” the demand letter explains. “They did announce that anyone who chose to do so could bow their heads in a moment of silence.”
On Jan. 27, the demand letter says, a friend of a driver published a widely-shared Facebook post stating that UPS was prohibiting drivers from praying.
After the post was published, several employees who regularly participated in the prayers have been fired for “pretextual reasons,” according to Liberty Counsel.
“The remaining drivers believe these firings are retaliation for the Facebook post that a driver’s friend made online about UPS’s preventing them from praying and retaliation for the drivers’ filing grievances against UPS for failing to pay the drivers properly in 2019,” the demand letter explains.
UPS Senior Manager of Public Relations Matthew O’Connor told The Christian Post that UPS investigated the claims made in Liberty Counsel’s letter and believes “there is a misunderstanding.”
“We have reached out to them to clarify the situation regarding employees at our site,” UPS' O’Connor wrote in an email to CP. “UPS employees are permitted to assemble before they start work as long as they follow truck yard safety and conduct rules.”
O’Connor added that no employees were disciplined in connection with the pre-shift prayer assembly.
“We look forward to clarifying this situation with Liberty Counsel and our employees at the site,” O’Connor stressed.
Liberty Counsel demanded a written response from UPS by the close of business Wednesday, assuring that the ban on prayer meetings on UPS property has been revoked and that the drivers who were fired have been reinstated.
Liberty Counsel threatened to “take additional action to protect the religious free exercise rights of UPS employees,” such as filing complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Liberty Counsel's Communications Director Holly Meade told CP that the law firm held a conference Thursday morning with interested parties. An update on the Thursday meeting and UPS' formal response to the Liberty Counsel's demand letter could not be provided by press time.
Liberty Counsel lawyer Richard Mast argued in the demand letter that UPS violated the rights of its employees guaranteed by Title VII’s prohibition of employment discrimination based on religion.
“Employees may voluntarily read the Bible, pray together, or discuss spiritual matters before their shifts begin for the day; during their lunch breaks; or during any other off-the-clock time when they may otherwise read or discuss secular topics,” Mast wrote.
“An order that employees refrain from praying together under the circumstances described herein by our employee contacts appears to constitute a prima facie case of discrimination on the basis of 'religion,' which is a violation of Title VII."