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Religious Discrimination Cases That Shook the Workplace in 2013

We assume that as society has evolved, Americans have become more accepting of different religions and value sets. However, in the workplace, it appears that biases still exist when it comes to what an employee or coworker believes. And surprisingly, it touches on even the most mainstream religions in America.

In November 2013, a Portland city employee was awarded $14,000 because she was harassed by her coworker over her Christian beliefs. KellyMarie Griffin said her workplace became hostile because of her religious convictions, and a coworker even threatened that she would “file a complaint against you the next time I sneeze and you say ‘bless you.’”

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), religious discrimination and harassment claims are increasing at a rapid rate. From 1992 to 2007, claims grew 100 percent. And in 2012, 3,811 charges were filed with the EEOC, the second highest level of all time. Outside of the classification designated as “other,” Muslims filed the largest number of complaints – 21 percent. Catholics and Protestants filed 13 percent of claims in 2013.

In 2013, a number of religious discrimination cases garnered national attention:

  • EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch – Abercrombie agreed to pay two teens $71,000 after one was fired and another denied a job because they wore hijabs, or head scarves.
  • EEOC v. Landmark Hotel Group – An employee who was a Seventh-Day Adventist received a $45,000 settlement after her employer refused to allow her to take off the Sabbath.
  • EEOC v. CONSOL Energy – When CONSOL Energy initiated hand scanning to track worker attendance, an Evangelical Christian employee refused to use the system because of religious beliefs. The company declined to offer him a time-keeping alterative although it did for workers who were missing fingers.
  • EEOC v. Star Transport, Inc. – In May 2013, the EEOC sued the trucking company because it refused to allow two Muslim drivers to deliver other products because they did not want to deliver alcohol for religious reasons.

Said Melanie Trottman of The Wall Street Journal, “The trend toward a seven-day workweek sometimes treads on the Sabbath. Religious garb and grooming clash with dress codes. Job duties that intersect with changing public policies – for instance, issuing a marriage license to a gay couple – test some workers’ adherence to their religious beliefs.”

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations to protect a worker’s religious beliefs as long as it does not create a hardship for the company. Flexible scheduling, duty reassignment and altering the dress code are frequently reasonable accommodations; however, accommodations that can negatively affect one’s safety, cause the hiring of more workers to cover absences, or changes that lead to a substantial cost for the company may not be reasonable, however.

Yet, employers still violate the law and managers and coworkers still fuel hostile workplaces. In a study from the Tannenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, 49 percent of non-Christians believe their employers ignore their religious needs, and 32 percent of evangelical Protestants believe their coworkers look down on their religious beliefs.

The issue of discrimination is a tricky one. Managers are taught to treat everyone the same to avoid overall discrimination charges, but some adjustments have to be made according to Title VII. Therefore, companies must review their policies regarding religious tolerance and respect the individual rights of all of their employees.


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