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Dismissed Bus Driver Files Federal Complaint

Labor: The vegetarian who refused to hand out hamburger coupons to riders for OCTA cites religious discrimination.

June 11, 1996|DAVID HALDANE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LOS ANGELES — Attorney Gloria Allred filed a discrimination complaint Monday with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of an Orange County transit bus driver fired last week for refusing to hand out coupons for free Carl's Jr. hamburgers.

Bruce Anderson, a 38-year-old vegetarian, has said the demand by the Orange County Transportation Authority to distribute the coupons to bus riders violated his spiritual beliefs.

Allred, known for taking cases involving civil liberties, also issued an ultimatum to the transit authority to reinstate Anderson within 72 hours or face a lawsuit.

"The OCTA refused to accommodate his beliefs in any manner," Allred said at her office in Los Angeles. "We believe that this termination discriminates against Bruce on the basis of his religious views. . . . This is part of his identity, part of his belief system. This is who he is."

Allred said his vegetarianism in itself constitutes a religious belief, and that the law does not require that it be sanctioned by an organized religion.

Flanked by Anderson, Allred described the case as the first of its kind that she is aware of in the United States.

Allred, a media savvy attorney, is known for tackling high-profile discrimination cases. In 1979, she won a precedent-setting right-to-privacy case involving the use of lie-detector tests by federal employers. She also sued to force Los Angeles County to change its policy of tying inmates to their beds during childbirth. And she won a change of policy at Saks Fifth Avenue stores when she sued them for charging women more than men for alterations.

Anderson, a five-year driver, said he thought he was going to work with the OCTA until he retired: "Now, my dreams of that are gone. What am I going to do? I have no job because of my spiritual beliefs. Being fired hurts a lot."

An OCTA spokesman said the discrimination complaint would not change the agency's position that Anderson was properly discharged for failing to do something that was part of his job.

"It really doesn't change any of the material facts of the case," John Standiford said. "The facts are pretty clear, we are confident on those facts and the EEOC complaint does nothing to change those facts."

Anderson was fired Friday for "insubordination" after refusing a supervisor's order three days earlier to give bus riders the coupons, each good for a free hamburger at Carl's Jr. restaurants.

The hamburger give-away--scheduled for each Tuesday through June--is part of a promotion to encourage more people to ride the bus. Half an hour after Anderson refused the order, he was met at a bus stop by OCTA supervisors, ordered off the bus in front of his passengers and suspended without pay.

Anderson said that while he is depressed and experiencing financial hardship, he still feels strongly about his decision.

"This is a big issue," he said. "I believe what I'm doing is correct. I'm not going to pass out those heart-attack coupons."

OCTA's board of directors is expected to discuss the matter in executive session June 24.

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