Hope This Is A One-Off – Pentecostal Employees Harassed By Supervisor: EEOC

We have not seen this type of workplace discrimination case often – outright harassment based upon religion.

What we see are cases of discrimination based upon the wearing of religious garb (think hijab or yarmulka), or discrimination because an employee requires an accommodation for attending religious services or observance of the Sabbath.

We have published many posts about the tension between religion beliefs and practices and an employer’s right to reasonable control of the workplace. This tension is, of course, addressed in Title VII which prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of, among many things, religion. Indeed, it is fair to state that Title VII created that tension when it made religion a protected class in order to protect religious beliefs and practices – before that the employer’s decision governed.

But the latest case is one of harassment, not merely a failure to accommodate.

A newly-filed two-pronged EEOC lawsuit claiming that a Pennsylvania manufacturer subjected employees who are Pentecostal and Puerto Rican to a hostile workplace based upon their religion and national origin.

It is alleged that “[t]he plant manager routinely made derogatory remarks about their national origin and also made disparaging comments about their Pentecostal faith, including calling it a “cult.” And even after they complained to the company owner they were still harassed, and also retaliated against — reduced hours, assignments and responsi¬bilities, denial of superior assignments and overtime, and finally terminations.

When we have seen cases involving, for example, Pentecostals or Seventh-day Adventists, it is the typical failure to accommodate cases.

A logging company settled a case for $53,000 for allegedly 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.”

Then there was the South Carolina company which hired a Hebrew Pentecostal truck driver who told them that he could not, for religious reasons, work on the Sabbath. Nevertheless, he was later fired for refusing to do so. The EEOC sued the company.

And the North Carolina company which hired a Seventh-day Adventist truck driver (another 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.

Finally, the EEOC filed suit in August 2015 based upon religious discrimination under Title VII claiming that a bookkeeper was told that he had to work Saturdays. Being a Hebrew Pentecostal, who cannot work from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, he asked instead to be permitted the accommodation of working Sundays or late on week nights other than Fridays. He was fired.

While I have, perhaps, a cynical suspicion that the national origin of these employees was the actual, or primary, reason for their harassment, nonetheless let’s hope that this type of religious harassment is only a one-off.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 152 other subscribers

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]