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Flower Mound doctor fined by federal court after EEOC charged him with forcing prayer meetings in the workplace



PLANO, TX – A U.S. District Court in Plano has ordered a Flower Mound physician to pay $375,000 to employees who were required to start their workdays with mandatory prayer meetings.

The court found that actions by Dr. Tim Shepherd, Bridges Healthcare and Shepherd Healthcare violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from being required to accept their employer’s religious practices and beliefs as a condition of their employment.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought the suit in 2017 on behalf of 10 former employees who said they were forced to attend morning meetings that included the reading of Biblical verses and discussions of how those principles applied to the employees’ personal lives.

“This is not an activity that any employer can mandate,” EEOC senior trial attorney Meaghan Kuelbs said.

The federal agency said it filed the lawsuit after first attempting to reach a settlement.

“The EEOC stands by those former employees of Shepherd Healthcare who spoke up when they were forced to attend a Bible class and were then harassed and fired after they refused to comply,” said Suzanne Michel Anderson, acting regional attorney of the EEOC’s Dallas District Office.

Shepherd said in an interview Friday that the company that was sued no longer exists and the EEOC “doesn’t care about the money” but is interested in the publicity.

“Praying is a constitutionally protected activity, and the EEOC is trying to put fear in businesses,” Shepherd said. “The U.S. Congress has prayers before meetings and chaplains.”

He disputed that the prayer meetings were mandatory and says he believes employees went along with the EEOC’s story because “they were told they’d be paid $50,000 in damages.”

According to the EEOC, one employee, who followed the principles of Buddhism, said she asked several times to be excused from the religious portion of the meeting. After asking again, she was fired the next day, according to the lawsuit.

Cases involving religious rights aren’t as common as race and sex, which represent the largest number of complaints to the EEOC. Last year in Texas, 205 charges, or 3%, of the 6,876 total charges filed with the EEOC fell under the broad category of “religious charges.” The state’s cases represented about 8.5% of the U.S. total charges based on religion in 2020.

In addition to the monetary relief, U.S. District Court Judge Sean Jordan ordered Shepherd to provide Title VII training to all employees and managers.

The judge’s order also prohibits Shepherd’s medical practice from requiring or pressuring any employee to engage in religious-based activities, including meetings, social events, conversations and prayers.

According to the EEOC, Shepherd filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy soon after the EEOC filed its first complaint and formed a new practice, Bridges Healthcare. Bankruptcy law doesn’t protect filers from EEOC actions, and the federal agency added Bridges Healthcare as a defendant.

The order said Shepherd has agreed to pay the $375,000 starting April 1 and in three more installments ending in September 2022.

Shepherd is in family practice and is now part of the Privia Medical Group in Flower Mound. When asked whether he continues to hold staff prayer meetings, Shepherd said, “I’m not the owner. I don’t run this practice. I’m just an employee.”

Shepherd, who said he’s been in practice for 40 years, added, “We’re trying to get through the pandemic and take care of people.”