Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Cost of Religious Discrimination at Work

Employers should never underestimate the consequences of allowing religious discrimination at work. Aside from its ability to negatively affect working relationships and the morale of employees, religious discrimination complaints filed by aggrieved employees can cost serious financial losses to companies.

In the fiscal year of 2010 alone, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that claims filed and resolved under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 alleging religion-based discrimination has amounted to $10 million.

Most recently, a major retailer in North Carolina was held liable to pay $55,000 as well as other relief in order to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by an employee who was fired for refusing to wear Santa attire.

The former employee, Myra Jones-Abid, who is a member of Jehovah’s Witness, was allegedly required by Belk’s Crabtree Valley Mall store during Christmas season last 2008 to don a Santa hat and apron. However, it is prohibited under her religion to recognize holidays so she refused to wear the holiday attire. Subsequently, she was fired by the company for declining to wear the apparel.

The EEOC then charged Belk with religious discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as the company failed to provide reasonable accommodation to Abid’s sincerely held religious beliefs and even fired her because of it.

Aside from the monetary award to Abid, Belk is also required under the settlement agreement to provide training on religious discrimination to all managers and supervisors in its store and to post a notice about employees’ rights under federal anti-discrimination laws.

Lynette Barnes, the regional attorney for EEOC’s Charlotte District said that, “No employee should be forced to choose between her faith and her job.”

Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees or applicants because of their religion in hiring, firing, and other terms and conditions of employment. Reasonable accommodation is actually required to be provided to the religious practices of an employee or prospective employee unless of course this would cause undue hardship on the employer’s business operations.

Thus, the failure of the employer to observe the rights of his employee and to commit an adverse employment decision on the basis of religion (i.e. firing), will expose him to legal liability which may cost him thousands of dollars worth of

For more questions about religious discrimination and reasonable accommodation at work, you may call the Mesriani Law Group at (310) 826-6300 or send them an email at