We discussed religious accommodation a lot in the last year, and on October 23, 2012 we commented that religion and the workplace is a big topic on both sides of the Atlantic, with the issue of religious liberty in the workplace bedeviling the courts.
The EEOC ended the year with a nod to religious discrimination claims by settling three such suits.
1. First, it announced that Miami’s Dynamic Medical Services, Inc. has agreed to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit for $170,000. As we reported on May 10, 2013, the the EEOC’s suit alleged that the company required employees to attend courses at the Church of Scientology, and also “to spend at least half their work days in courses that involved Scientology religious practices, such as screaming at ashtrays or staring at someone for eight hours without moving.”
It also required one employee to undergo an “audit” by an “E-meter”
We stated this takeaway: If you want to force employees to scream at ashtrays, make sure there is no religious aspect to it.
Or as an EEOC attorney said: “The law is clear: An employer cannot force his or her religion on staff by mandating that employees practice or espouse a certain religion, and cannot refuse to accommodate employees after they object to such discriminatory employment practices.”
2. On January 18, 2013, we wrote about a Burger King franchisee in Texas which had agreed to pay $25,000 to settle a case brought by the EEOC in which it alleged that a Pentecostal Christian cashier was fired for wearing a skirt to work. The employee, whose religion requires her to only wear skirts or dresses, contrary to the employer’s policy that she must wear pants, claimed that she had been initially promised an accommodation but that she was fired nonetheless.
Now the EEOC has announced a similar settlement. Companies which jointly run a chain of North Carolina KFCs will pay $40,000 to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit which made the same claim — that an employee who had converted to Pentecostalism, and therefore could not wear pants as part of her religious beliefs, was told that she was required to wear pants as part of the dress code policy. When she said that she could not, she was fired.
Cases alleging religious discrimination are on the rise: on October 2, 2013 we posted that the EEOC announced a religious discrimination suit against a Pennsylvania coal company for refusing to accommodate (and forcing to retire) an Evangelical Christian who had been an employee for 35 years and who refused to submit to a biometric hand scanner to track employee time and attendance claiming that there was a “relationship between hand-scanning technology and the Mark of the Beast and antichrist discussed in the Book of Revelation of the New Testament and requesting an exemption from the hand scanning based on his religious beliefs.”
We have cautioned frequently that employers should be aware that in the US employers are required to accommodate the right of religious employees to wear religion-required clothes, tattoos or symbols as long as this does not cause an undue hardship to the employer.
3. Finally, as we reported on December 23, 2013, a Muslim employee of McDonald’s in Fresno requested a religious accommodation: the right to grow a beard in accordance with his religious beliefs. His request was refused and he was fired. The EEOC sued and The Fresno Bee reports that McDonald’s has agreed to settle the case for $50,000 and other relief. We titled the post “Beard Worth $50,000 To EEOC.”
The EEOC said that “Workers have the right to request an accommodation which would allow them to work while still practicing their religious beliefs. Employers must consider such requests and ensure that no negative actions are taken against workers who exercise this right.”
This is not rocket science, guys: religious rights and practices of employees must be taken seriously and reasonably accommodated if not unduly burdensome.