Law Offices of Dan A. Atkerson

Keeping Faith in America’s Protections Against Religious Discrimination

By Dan Atkerson on January 06, 2016

Religious DiscriminationA Muslim woman recently filed a lawsuit against her former employer for religious discrimination after she was mistreated and then fired shortly after the San Bernardino shooting. The plaintiff, who wears a hijab, was hired to work as a medical receptionist at a local dermatology clinic just days prior to the tragic events in California. The day immediately following the San Bernardino shooting, her new employer pulled her aside to ask her if she could get her previous job back.

Instead, the plaintiff was transferred to a different position. She was assigned to filing paperwork in the back of the office where she would not have patient contact. Within a few days, she received an email saying the office was downsizing and she was being fired.

The email was completely inconsistent with earlier emails, which described the office as “hemorrhaging” and in need of “positive, energetic people.” Just weeks prior to the plaintiff’s firing to accommodate “downsizing,” the employer allegedly shared a plan to “expand.”

The plaintiff’s attorney describes the situation as a “classic case” of workplace discrimination, adding that “there was a motive here to get rid of our client, because she subscribes to the religion of Islam and wears a hijab.”

Your Rights Against Religious Discrimination

All employees are covered by Title VII, which prohibits discrimination against employees based on their religion. Not only are employers restricted from discriminating or harassing workers for their religious beliefs in any way, but they are also required to make certain accommodations in some cases.

Discrimination is strictly forbidden under Title VII, meaning that employers may not allow an employee’s religious beliefs to influence their decisions about hiring, firing, promoting, etc. For example, firing an employee because of his or her Islamic faith is discrimination.

Harassment does not have to be sexual in nature, although it often is. Any actions that are unwelcome or make an employee feel uncomfortable could be seen as harassment.

Employers may be required to make reasonable accommodation, meaning accommodation at minimal expense to the employer; allowing employees time off to observe religious holidays, or to wear a hijab at work, for example.

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