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Religious discrimination in the workplace

Religious discrimination in the workplace is any unfavorable behavior toward one or more workers based on their religion or religious beliefs or practices.

Tod C Gurney | Mar 1, 2016

Employment Matters: Religion in the Workplace

Religious Expression Does it matter if the employer is a private entity or a public institution? These questions are among those that have been discussed in courtrooms across the country as more religious individuals are making their private religious beliefs very public. Employers should use caution when handling matters of religion in the workplace, or they may be faced with a religious discrimination investigation or lawsuit challenging a potentially unconstitutional decision. Federal, state and local anti-discrimination laws protect employees from unequal treatment in the workplace based on their religious beliefs. This protection includes certain manners of dress, leave issues, and behaviors that can be attributed to the employee's strongly held religious belief. It also prohibits harassment of an employee because of his or her religion. This last protection is important for managers and company leaders to address quickly as "harmless banter" can turn into a hostile work environment very quickly. Employees who believe that they have been discriminated against in the workplace have the right to file a complaint with federal and state administrative agencies, which are tasked with conducting investigations that can last for months or even years. Public v. Private Workplace As mentioned previously, governmental employers are barred from engaging in any conduct that could be construed as unconstitutional promotion of religion. This fact has not stopped a certain public official in Texas from bringing his religion into the workplace by encouraging state officials to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses despite a recent Supreme Court ruling stating that such actions are unconstitutional. The official is now facing an ethics investigation into his conduct as he swore to uphold the laws of the United States when he took public office, not the laws of his chosen religion. Private employers, however, do not face the same constitutional scrutiny. In a case almost as infamous as Obergefell, the Supreme Court's ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby upheld an employer's right to blend their religious beliefs into their employment policies and practices. The Court held that Hobby Lobby (and corporations similarly situated) could not be mandated to provide insurance coverage to employees via health plans that included coverage for items that were objectionable to the religious principles of the company owners. The ruling essentially upheld private company owners' rights to express their religious beliefs did not stop at the door of the company. The Court was careful to note, however, that employers were still required to comply with anti-discrimination laws and "were unlikely to prevail if they objected to complying with other laws on religious grounds."

Jeremy Randall Summerlin | Dec 28, 2015

What is Illegal Employment Discrimination, Really?

Exceptions Provided by State Law (South Carolina in this case) If your termination is because your employer asked you to or required you to violate a law, then you may have a case for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. Examples would include your employer requiring you to stay at work instead of complying with a lawful subpoena or asking you to directly participate in the employer's unlawful conduct. If your employer provided you with an Employee Handbook, then you may have claim for an implied contract based on the promises made in the handbook. However, such a claim depends squarely on the language of the handbook, especially any disclaimers that the employer may have inserted into the handbook. You'll need to schedule a consult with an experienced employment lawyer to find out for sure. Exceptions Provided by Federal Law Several federal laws provide several additional exceptions to the at-will standard, and most employment cases are filed under these anti-discrimination statutes, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Equal Pay Act (EPA), and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA). The next seven sections cover the most common types of employment cases. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act: Discrimination and Retaliation Title VII prevents employers from engaging in race discrimination, sex discrimination (including sexual harassment and hostile work environments), religious discrimination, and national origin discrimination. Under Title VII, employers cannot make decisions such as hiring, firing, promoting, or paying employees based on an employee's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, which would constitute unlawful discrimination. Further, employers cannot engage in retaliation against the employee if the employee engages in "protected activity" in regards to an act of discrimination. Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) The ADEA prevents employers from engaging in employment discrimination on the basis of an employee's age, and it applies to employees who are over the age of 40. Employers cannot make their decisions, like hiring, firing, or promoting, based on an employee's age. The law is intended to protect employees who are perfectly capable of performing their duties competently, but who are being replaced or passed over in favor of younger, often less qualified, people. The ADEA also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for filing a charge of age discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) The ADA is a federal law that protects individuals with disabilities in the workplace. It prohibits employers from discriminating against any qualified individuals on the basis of disability in regards to any term or condition of employment. The employer is prevented, under this law, from making decisions like refusing to hire, firing, or failing to promote employees BASED ON the employee's disability. A disability under the ADA is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This definition is deliberately broad so as to include a wide range of disabilities. However, in order for the law to cover an employee, the employee must be able to perform the essential functions of the position, with or without a reasonable accommodation. Typically, a fact-intensive consultation with an experienced employment attorney will help determine whether a potential client's condition falls into this definition of disability. "Reasonable accommodations" are another unique feature of the ADA. If the employee requests that the employer provide a reasonable accommodation for the employee's disability, then the employer should initiate an interactive process with the employee to determine what accommodation can be made for the employee. The employer's failure to engage in this process or to provide a reasonable accommodation can result in legal liability against the employer. Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) The PDA amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to expressly include discrimination on the basis of pregnancy as illegal sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act. Essentially, the PDA requires employers to treat pregnant employees exactly the same as employees who are not pregnant but would need similar accommodations or treatment because of other, non-pregnancy-related reasons. One common example of a violation of this law occurs when an employer forces a pregnant employee to go on leave before the employee truly needs to. Often this results in the employee running out of leave before she is able to return to work after the birth, and so the employer fires her. Also, if an employee takes leave because of pregnancy related symptom but then recovers, the employer cannot force the employee to remain on leave until the birth of the child. Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) The employment and re-employment rights of military service members are protected by USERRA. This act guarantees leaves of absence for training, provides the right to reemployment after active duty, and prohibits discrimination based on an employee's military status. Under USERRA, an employer is prohibited from discriminating against an employee because of that employee's service in the armed services. If an employee's status as a member of the military or military obligations is the employer's "motivating factor" in deciding whether to hire, fire, or promote that employee, then that employer has violated USERRA. In essence, if the employer's reason for making an employment decision was based on the employee's military service, then the employer has discriminated against the employee. Under the training and re-employment provisions of USERRA, your employer must allow you time off to complete your training and must allow you to resume your job after returning from active duty (if you reapply within the deadline). Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) While not strictly an employment discrimination law, the FMLA weaves in and out of several of the laws mentioned above and bears explanation here. The FMLA provides up to 12 weeks of leave to qualifying employees who are struggling with a serious health condition, which is defined as a condition that requires hospitalization or continuing treatment by a health care professional. The law, however, only applies to employers with 50 or more employees within a 75 miles radius of the employee's workplace. The employee must also have been employed for at least one year prior to the need for leave and have worked at least 1,250 hours during that year. The leave can be taken consecutively or intermittently, depending on the recommendation of the employee's doctor. FMLA leave often comes in the context of a disability under the ADA or a pregnancy under the PDA. A reasonable accommodation under the ADA can come in the form of time off from work, and pregnant workers who qualify also may require leave under the FMLA both before and after pregnancy. Retaliation All of the federal laws mentioned above provide for an additional key protection against retaliation by the employer. That is, if an employee complains about discriminatory conduct that falls within one of the protected categories discussed above and the employer then terminates the employee, the employee likely has a claim that the employer retaliated against the employee because the employee's protected actions in regards to an act of discrimination. Protected activity includes an employee opposing an unlawful discriminatory action by the employer, such as protesting the action, or an employee participating in the investigation or proceeding of a claim under Title VII, such as testifying or assisting in the matter. Time Limits on Filing a Discrimination Lawsuit You should realize that most discrimination cases have short statute of limitations -- many as short as 300 days from the last act of discrimination. This means if you wait more than 300 days to act, you may have lost your opportunity to seek a remedy for the harm done to you.

Emanuel Soleiman Shirazi | Jun 22, 2015

Religious, race, and sexual orientation discrimination

Zara Attorney Suing Company For $40 Mil In Damages The popular clothing retailer Zara is in hot water once again. Last summer they had to withdraw a children's shirt from their shelves because it resembled a Holocaust concentration camp uniform. In 2007, the company had to withdraw a handbag with a swastika pattern. If those two incidents weren't enough for some to draw anti-Semitic conclusions about the Spanish company--Ian Jack Miller, the corporate attorney for Zara US and Canada for 7 years, recently filed a $40 million discrimination suit against the company. Miller, the first and only corporate attorney for the company, alleges that he was fired because he is Jewish, American, and homosexual. He says the company favors hiring employees who are Christian, Spanish, and heterosexual. Amanzio Ortega the founder of Zara's parent company Inditex is also the 4th richest person in the world. According to Miller, Ortega and his closest cohorts allegedly emailed him graphic gay porn scenes and repeatedly discussed their sexual encounters with prostitutes and female subordinates. Zara's top executives are not only being accused of sexual harassment but also of blatant racism. Miller claims he kept his Jewish background under wraps because of the rampant anti-Semitism around him. When the top executives at the New York office found out Miller was Jewish, he was allegedly fired. Miller's claims include hostile work environment, discrimination, and retaliation. He seeks back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, liquidated damages, and punitive damages. Zara's response to the lawsuit is: "We do not tolerate any behavior that is discriminatory or disrespectful, but value each individual's contributions to our dynamic organization." What do you think? Do you think Zara's past issues with Nazi-type clothing will hurt them in this lawsuit?