Catholic Employee Harassed For Having a Crucifix: EEOC Lawsuit

Well, this is the first time I’ve seen a hostile work environment case based upon religious discrimination – that is, an employee allegedly harassed because of his religion.

The EEOC just sued a New Jersey company alleging that it knew that shortly after an employee was hired “his manager learned he was Catholic and reacted negatively upon seeing a crucifix in the employee’s office.”

What else did the manager do?

It is alleged that “the manager regularly belittled him, screamed at him, and ridiculed his work in front of others.

Wow. In the NYC metro area religious harassment to this extent against an employee who is Catholic is something that is noteworthy.

The EEOC district director said that “Equal opportunity in the workplace requires respect for the diversity of the American workforce. People of all religions are entitled to go to work and do their jobs without fear of harassment.”

We’ve seen that workplace religious discrimination usually comes in two flavors:  employers prohibiting religious garb or religious grooming, or discriminating as to an employee’s observance of religious beliefs. But it’s been awhile since we’ve seen outright harassment.

For example, I noted early this Summer that a New Mexico diner had just been 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.

In a recently-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.”

Not long ago, the EEOC settled a religious discrimination case filed against a Florida staffing company for the hospitality industry where 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.

And 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.

Finally, 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.

No cases involving harassment based upon religious beliefs.


If the allegations against the manager are true, there’s not much I can provide as a takeaway.

If the allegations against the employer are true – that it ignored the harassment that it knew about, well, then, then it should have known better — employers must investigate and remediate such claims of harassment, as we have stated here for years.

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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]