The EEOC: "Religious Freedom and Inclusiveness"

Religious discrimination, formerly a backwater of discrimination law, has shot to the forefront in recent years.   Public policy and the expansion of the reach of Title VII meet claims of religious discrimination.   The political/legal struggles will likely take a while to resolve, if at all.   But one thing is certain: the EEOC has decidedly not abandoned its efforts to pursue claims of employment discrimination based upon religion.

I wrote in my prior blog back on October 2, 2013 about a number of religious discrimination cases involving Evangelical Christians, Seventh Day Adventists and Pentecostals, and reminded those who accuse the EEOC of ignoring discrimination against certain religious faiths that the record belies their accusations. As an EEOC attorney said at the time:  “Employers must respect employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs and carefully consider requests made by employees based on those beliefs.  This case demonstrates the EEOC’s continued commitment to fighting religious discrimination in the workplace (emphasis added).”

Statue, Faces, Sculpture, Religion

In one case, the EEOC sued a Pennsylvania coal company for refusing to accommodate (and forcing to retire) an Evangelical Christian woman 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.”

The EEOC won that case earlier this year when the jury awarded plaintiff $150,000 in compensatory damages. Moreover, after a hearing the Court recently issued an order awarding her a total of $586,860 in lost wages and benefits and compensatory damages, and permanently enjoining the employer from committing similar acts in the future in violation of Title VII.

Said the EEOC General Counsel, “This victory underscores two important American values: religious freedom and inclusiveness.”  Another EEOC official stated that “Many times when there is a conflict between an employees’s religious beliefs and a work rule, there are easy modifications to company permitting an employee to continue to work without violating his religious beliefs.”

As with the ADA, “accommodation” is the key.

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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]