Discrimination & Harassment

Religion

Outten & Golden attorneys have ample experience representing employees who have suffered religious discrimination.

Federal law protects most employees from discrimination based on religion. “Religion” includes spiritual or religious beliefs that are not associated with an organized church or other group, and can include atheist or agnostic beliefs. New York State law and City law provide some protection as well.

Generally speaking, most employers may not treat employees differently because of their religion. Employers may not refuse to hire people because of their religious beliefs or treat them differently than other employees with respect to assignments, discipline, promotions, pay, or benefits because of their religion.

Employers may also have a duty to stop serious religious harassment in the workplace. If an employer has been made aware that its employees are suffering unwanted statements or conduct in the workplace based on their religion, the employer may be required to intervene if the harassment is severe or pervasive.

Employers may also be required to accommodate reasonable requests to make changes in the workplace for employees’ religious observances. Examples include changing a work schedule, making exceptions to a dress code, or allowing private religious expressions in one’s work area. Whether an accommodation is reasonable depends on the specific circumstances. Accommodations that are too difficult or burdensome for an employer are not required, and changes that would infringe on other employees’ rights are normally not considered reasonable.

There are exceptions to these laws for some religious organizations, which are allowed to give some preferences to members of their own religion in hiring. Employees who have a religious function (such as ministers) generally may not bring claims for religious discrimination against their employers.

Examples of harassment include:

  • Coworkers calling an employee “Jewish sounding” names, making frequent comments about Jewish lawyers, singling the employee out on a near-daily basis because of his religion, and making derogatory comments about Jews, including referring to “Jewish pig food” and saying “what’s wrong with these people?” in reference to an event about the Holocaust. Feingold v. New York, 366 F.3d 138 (2d Cir. 2004). Outten & Golden represented the plaintiff and won this case.*
  • An employee’s supervisor repeatedly lecturing her at work about salvation, making highly personal inquiries into her private life, telling her that she led a sinful life and that he was certain she had sacrificed animals in Satan's name, and saying that committing suicide would be preferable to the life she lived. Venters v. City of Delphi, 123 F.3d 956 (7th Cir. 1997).
  • Coworkers calling a Muslim employee “Taliban” and “towel head,” and asking “are you on our side or are you on the Taliban's side?” Coworkers also ridiculed employee’s kufi and beard, and told him that they had a “problem” with him leaving his desk daily to pray. One coworker said that if he ever caught employee praying, that would be “the end of him.” EEOC v. Sunbelt Rentals, Inc., 521 F.3d 306 (4th Cir. 2008).

(*Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.)