Pagan sues Panera Bread Company alleging religious discrimination

A former baker for the chain said she was told that she 'needed to find God,' according to a court filing.

A former employee of the Panera Bread in Pleasant Hills, Pennsylvania, is suing the company on grounds of religious discrimination. Screenshot from Google Maps

(RNS) — A Pennsylvania woman filed a lawsuit Wednesday (March 24) against Panera Bread Company, alleging that she was discriminated against and fired due to her pagan beliefs. 

Tammy McCoy, of Clairton, Pennsylvania, was hired as a baker at the Panera location in nearby Pleasant Hills, a Pittsburgh suburb, in October 2019. According to the filing, she “never discussed her religion or religious beliefs at work” because she felt the subject was private. 

Paganism is an umbrella term used for a number of different growing religious and spiritual practices centered on nature and magic.

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According to the lawsuit, the subject of McCoy’s religion came up in late May of 2020, when McCoy was on break with the store’s assistant manager, Lori Dubs, and the manager, Kerri Ann Show. Show asked McCoy what her religion was, and Tammy responded, “I am Pagan.”

Show reportedly responded by telling McCoy that she was going to hell, and Dubs “vigorously nodded her head in agreement.”

The lawsuit then goes on to describe a series of other discriminatory actions. Among the complaints are that McCoy’s hours were cut, and when she asked why, she was told that she “needed to find God” before returning to her “previous schedule.” She was reportedly docked pay for breaks that she did not take.

McCoy alleged that she asked to be transferred to a different store, to which the district manager reportedly said, “No,” and, “We’re probably going to get rid of you anyways.”

A call to Panera’s corporate human resources went unanswered. 

According to the lawsuit, the threats continued and turned violent at times, allegedly creating a “hostile work environment.”

On July 27, McCoy said she was told to give notice that she was leaving her job. Both she and her husband, who also worked at Panera and was not otherwise mentioned in the case, were fired, according to the suit. 

The lawsuit, which was filed in a Pennsylvania federal court, states that McCoy’s civil rights were violated under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin. 

McCoy declined an interview. Panera did not answer a request for comment.

The Rev. Selena Fox, executive director of the pagan civil rights organization Lady Liberty League and senior minister of Circle Sanctuary, has reached out to both McCoy and Panera Bread Company. 

“Pagans are continuing the quest for full equality, liberty and justice in the U.S.A. and other parts of the world,” Fox said.

“Although there have been a variety of pagan rights legal victories, unfortunately, anti-pagan prejudice, harassment, discrimination and defamation still happen.”

Lady Liberty League (LLL) was founded in 1985 during the “Satanic Panic,” when pagans were regularly confronted with similar situations at work and in their communities. “It is essential to stand up to anti-pagan hate and attacks whenever and wherever they occur,” Fox said.

Most typically, Lady Liberty League fields complaints related to “child custody, business, zoning, housing and job discrimination.”  

Fox added that there has been a noticeable uptick in discrimination over the past four years.

The LLL team is “in the early stages of looking into the case,” she said, and they are concerned for McCoy and for the greater community. “Discrimination against pagans not only harms the individuals directly impacted in a case, but pagan people and society as a whole,” Fox said.

As of Friday, the organization has not spoken to McCoy or received a response from Panera’s corporate headquarters.

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LLL is chiefly interested in speaking with the company’s diversity officers, said Fox, who added that she “understands an unwillingness for a company to discuss particulars of a lawsuit that is in process.

“It is our hope to be able to have direct dialogue with Panera Bread at the corporate level about the importance of stopping and preventing discrimination against pagan workers. We have had positive experiences with such conversations with other corporations and institutions we have contacted over the years.”

McCoy’s lawsuit claims that she was fully qualified to do her job and that the harassment and firing were solely due to her Pagan religious beliefs. 

The series of actions taken by the store’s managers, and later by the district manager, as stated in the filing, were “committed with intentional and reckless disregard for (McCoy’s) protected rights.” 

McCoy’s lawyer, Michael J. Bruzzese, is asking the federal court for a jury trial.

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