Religious Discrimination In The Workplace: Both Flavors

We’ve written before that cases of religious discrimination in the workplace generally come in two flavors (not always, of course):  employers prohibiting religious garb or religious grooming, or discriminating as to an employee’s observance of religious beliefs.

Well, a new EEOC lawsuit and a new EEOC settlement illustrate both situations nicely.  And also the need for reasonable accommodations – sound vaguely familiar?

Religious Garb

A New Mexico diner was just sued by the EEOC for allegedly failing to accommodate a Muslim employee who asked to be permitted to work while wearing a hijab – a head scarf. We’ve written about this precise situation many times before.

Not long ago, the EEOC settled a religious discrimination case filed against a Florida staffing company for the hospitality industry.  It was alleged that an employee, who was a Rastafarian who wore dreadlocks as part of his sincerely held religious belief, was taken off his assignment and never reassigned because he refused to comply with a client-hotel’s grooming policy by not cutting off his dreadlocks.

In late 2016, I wrote about a company that designs and manufactures automotive brake components, and its staffing agency, which were sued by the EEOC for religious discrimination in hiring.  The would-be employee, who had been made an offer of employment, “is an observant member of the Apostolic Faith Church of God and True Holiness, a Pentecostal Christian denomination. [She] holds the religious belief that she cannot wear pants because she is a woman, and that she is commanded to wear skirts or dresses.”

However, the would-be employer has a dress code policy which mandates that employees wear pants.

Something had to give:  The employer directed the agency not to hire her, and her offer of employment was withdrawn.  Corporate dress policy would not bend to religious beliefs as to dress.

An EEOC attorney said that “We are particularly concerned when the accommodation requested is easy to provide and the employer appears to have reacted to myths or stereotypes about a religion.”

Religious Observance

In the newly-settled case, a logging company agreed to pay $53,000 for refusing to accommodate a truck driver’s religious belief – he is Hebrew Pentecostal – and firing him because he “observes a Sabbath which begins at sunset on Friday and ends at sunset on Saturday.”

We’ve addressed this precise situation also – many times.

Recently, a South Carolina company hired a Hebrew Pentecostal truck driver who told them that he could not, for religious reasons, work on the Sabbath, but it eventually fired him for refusing to do so.  The EEOC sued the company.

A post I did last year involved a North Carolina company which hired a Seventh-day Adventist truck driver whose religious beliefs require that he not work on the Sabbath.  “The company’s facilities were usually closed on Saturdays and employees only worked Saturdays on limited occasions … but the company asked [him to work on a particular] Saturday.”  He asked for an accommodation for his religious beliefs but was refused – and fired.


Title VII requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs unless unduly burdensome

An EEOC attorney said that “Federal law requires employers to fairly balance an employee’s right to practice his or her religion and the operation of the business. For an accommodation to be meaningful under Title VII, it both must respect the employee’s religious beliefs and permit her to do her job effectively.”

And accommodations are usually not that costly, or even burdensome.   Indeed, another EEOC official stated previously that “Many times when there is a conflict between an employee’s religious beliefs and a work rule, there are easy modifications to company policy permitting an employee to continue to work without violating his religious beliefs.”


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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]