Skip to main content

My employer lectured me on his religious beliefs. I was wondering if this is religious discrimination?

San Jose, CA |

The employer is Mormon and I grew up Catholic. The employer actually told me that Catholicism was not a "real religion". He also told me that since I was a "lesbian" that I would not enter into "heaven".

Attorney Answers 3

  1. We would need more information. What type of employer is it? Is it a religious non-profit? Affiliated with a religion? Or is it just a private employer who happens to be run by a Mormon.

    What your employer said is obviously offensive and could amount to harassment on the basis of either religion or sexual orientation if it continues. It could also turn into discrimination if you end up being fired because of your religion.

  2. I must respectfully disagree with my colleague who has concluded that what happened to you was clearly discriminatory. Unless and until you face an adverse employment action as a result of your religion or your sexual preference, you do not have a claim for discrimination based on those classifications. You might have a claim for harassment if you can prove the that comments were unwelcomed and sufficiently severe or pervasive. Based on your post, that is not clear at this time.

    Good luck to you.

    This answer should not be construed to create any attorney-client relationship. Such a relationship can be formed only through the mutual execution of an attorney-client agreement. The answer given is based on the extremely limited facts provided and the proper course of action might change significantly with the introduction of other facts. All who read this answer should not rely on the answer to govern their conduct. Please seek the advice of competent counsel after disclosing all facts to that attorney. This answer is intended for California residents only. The answering party is only licensed to practice in the State of California.

  3. I'm sorry this happened to you. In order for an employment act to constitute unlawful discrimination, the employee must be a member of a legally-protected group, the employer must take an adverse job action, and the adverse action must have been taken in whole or in part BECAUSE OF the employee's membership in a protected group.

    Employment discrimination is against the public policy of California and the United States. Many people misunderstand the meaning of employment discrimination. “Discrimination” does not mean an employer has to be fair, respectful or has to make good decisions. Workplace discrimination means the employer treats one person or group differently from others who are not in the same group, but are similarly situated.

    The only workplace discrimination that is illegal is discrimination that is against public policy. Public policy refers only to things that are specifically prohibited by a statute (law) enacted by the legislature, or prohibited by a regulation promulgated (established) by a government agency. Public policy includes statutes prohibiting discrimination against people in specific protected groups, which include sex, race, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, age (40 years and older), religion, marital status, pregnancy and genetic information. Sexual harassment is considered a form of sex discrimination.

    Public policy also protects people who blow the whistle on a matter of public concern, complain about improper wage and hour practices, or who exercise voting rights, family leave rights, jury duty rights, domestic violence rights, and a few more rights protected by statute.

    An employer cannot refuse to hire, refuse to promote, change terms of employment or fire an employee if the reason for the change is against the law (against public policy). For example, an employer cannot increase your workload because of your race, sex, national origin, religion, etc. or because you blew the whistle on safety violations

    There are various ways to enforce these rights, depending on the particular public policy involved. For more information on discrimination law, please see my Avvo guide on this subject:

    In your situation, you have legal protection due to your religion (all religions are protected) and your sexual orientation (all sexual orientations are protected in California). If your termination was BECAUSE OF your sexual orientation, that would be illegal. However, you need more than a belief that this was the reason, even if your belief was accurate. You need some kind of proof. The proof does not have to be a smoking gun, but must be sufficient so that a jury could decide in your favor. For example, if you worked at this place for a while without any problems, had good reviews, got promotions, etc. and then were fired the day after your employer found out you're a lesbian, that may be adequate to support a claim of discrimination due to the close timing. Most cases are not that clear, though, so you will need to consult withe one or more experienced employment law attorneys with whom you can discuss the details of your situation.

    Also, the employer's lecture might be unlawful harassment, though that is not likely if there was just the one lecture. Unlawful harassment is a form of discrimination. To be unlawful, the harassment must be must be based on a protected category, such as race, sex, religion, disability, age (40 and over), pregnancy, or genetic information. Harassment can include verbal conduct, slurs, derogatory comments, comments or questions about a person's body, appearance, religious, or sexual activity, or indication of stereotyping. Harassment can also include offensive gestures, sexually suggestive eye contact or looks, mimicking the employee in an insulting way, and derogatory or graphic posters, cartoons or drawings.

    (continued in Comment below) *** All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts. No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer is licensed to practice law before all state and federal courts in California, and can appear before administrative agencies throughout the country. She is eligible to represent clients in other states on a pro hac vice basis. ***

Business topics

Top tips from attorneys

What others are asking

Can't find what you're looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer

Browse all legal topics