The former manager of a New Jersey car dealership accused his ex-employers of firing him for refusing to take part in religiously-themed activities ordered by the store’s owners, the New Jersey Law Journal reported.
Joseph Haughey’s civil rights lawsuit argues that his termination from the CarSense dealership in Mount Holly in January 2011 was connected to an awkward encounter with company president Eugene Niconovich three weeks earlier.
According to the lawsuit, Haughey was attending a Bible study group meeting at the dealership when the company’s owner and CEO, Francis McGowan, told him he “could not wait for that glorious day” when he died, because it would enable him to “spend eternity in heaven with Jesus.” The lawsuit stated that the meetings were led by Niconovich, who was disturbed when Haughey did not respond to McGowan’s statements.
Haughey’s reluctance to engage in religious discussions with co-workers had allegedly been a source of tension between himself and Niconovich since October 2010, when Niconovich urged him to be “more outwardly religious” in spite of an “outstanding” performance as the dealership’s manager.
Haughey, a Roman Catholic, allegedly said he could not lead a prayer session at an upcoming employees’ meeting and did not attend church often. Niconovich fired Haughey for allegedly yelling at employees in two separate instances.
The suit argues that Niconovich’s reasoning for his dismissal was used as a “pretext for religious discrimination.”
While Haughey did admit in the suit that he yelled once at an employee, he stated that he apologized the next day. The second incident, the suit argued, involved Haughey asking a salesperson from across the dealership to instruct a customer to stay on the premises while police arrived. Haughey had contacted authorities when the customer’s dog bit the salesperson.
Niconovich, McGowan and CarSense are all named as defendants in the suit, which was moved to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on Aug. 29.
[Image: “Man holding a Bible,” via Shutterstock]