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All employers are explicitly prohibited from discriminating against any employees or job applicants based on their religion under federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) and according to California law. Unfortunately, because religious discrimination still takes place, it’s important to know the types of religious discrimination and how to recognize the signs of each.
There are two types of religious discrimination: treating employees differently because of their religious beliefs — which is a form of differential treatment — and not accommodating an employee’s religious beliefs.
Employers are not allowed to make job related decisions based on an employee’s religious beliefs. Many examples of overt differential treatment are fairly straightforward. For example, an employer cannot refuse to hire Jews, exclude Catholics from promotions, or more harshly discipline Muslim employees over other employees.
As mentioned, religious protections extend to even those without religious beliefs, such as atheists and agnostic individuals. Finally, employers are not allowed to show any special treatment towards employees of a particular religion. An example would be a Muslim employer who only hires Muslim employees.
Like other forms of discrimination in the workplace, religious discrimination is hard to prove. In essence, the goal is to prove that you were treated differently because of your choice of religion. Proving religious discrimination is fairly straightforward if an employer behaves in a manner that clearly betrays a religious bias. An employer, for example, who is known to never promote Christian employees to management positions because he believes religious beliefs preclude people from thinking critically would not be hard to call out for religious discrimination.
However, because direct evidence of religious discrimination is rare, an aggrieved employee must rely on circumstantial evidence to support their case. Let’s consider the following example. Mary applies for a promotion which she is more than qualified for. Mary’s employer is excited about promoting Mary to a management position, and lets her know during her interview that the job is basically hers if she wants it.
Mary expresses gratitude for the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder, and explains to her employer that she had been praying for this opportunity all along, and that she believes God helped her succeed along her career path. Mary’s employer, an atheist, does not appreciate Mary saying this. The next day, the employer, without consulting anyone, decides against promoting Mary and instead hires another employee who is not particularly religious.
Unless doing so will create undue hardship, all employers must reasonably accommodate their employee’s religious beliefs and practices. Common accommodations include:
Employers must also allow accommodations for clothing and grooming needs if employees are required to wear certain religious garments.
Let’s consider an example. Say that Betty requests permission to leave work an hour early on Friday nights because she needs to attend Bible study classes. Betty is aware that her request could affect productivity, so she reasonably offers to come in one hour early on Mondays to make up the difference.
Betty’s employer denies her request, claiming that the company needs every employee at work and that she simply can not leave early. Furthermore, her employer explains that he will not accommodate time off for personal reasons. However, other employees are allowed to customize their schedules to attend night school or to watch their children’s sporting games. Suddenly, the employer’s claim that Betty’s accommodations are unreasonable appears suspect.
Start by bringing up the issue with your company. If everything changed after discussing your religious beliefs, ask your employer if that was the reason why you did not get the previously discussed promotion or benefit. This conversation may help provide you with the evidence you need to strengthen your claim, or it may illuminate the real reason why the decision was made, whether it had something to do with your religious beliefs or not.
The next step is filing a complaint with your company’s Human Resources (HR) department. Making a formal complaint within your company is necessary because it gives them an opportunity to investigate and rectify the situation. Filing a formal complaint is also useful if you choose to file a lawsuit in the future, because it proves that the company was aware of the problem and did nothing to address it.
If your employer doesn’t handle your complaint, the next step is to file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or California’s fair employment practices agency. This is a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit. Either the EEOC or the Department Of Fair Employment and Housing will investigate the claim, and try to settle the issue or give you a right to sue letter.
Finally, if an investigation does not resolve the issue, the final step is to file a lawsuit. An experienced employment lawyer will help assess your claim and decide whether litigation is in your best interests.
If you have made up your mind to take action, it is important to work with an attorney that specializes in cases like yours. The religious discrimination lawyers at West Coast Employment Lawyers have extensive experience handling religious discrimination cases. We will work tirelessly to gather the facts, find and interview eyewitnesses, hire experts, and fight for your rights.
We work on a contingency basis, which means we only get attorney’s fees if we are able to recover for you. Our legal team is available 24/7 and will take care of your case from start to finish. For a free no-obligation consultation with a religious discrimination attorney in California, contact our office at 1-800-247-9235.