Three Things You Might Not Know About Title VII Religious Discrimination

Three Things You Might Not Know About Title VII Religious Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against an applicant or employee on the basis of his or her religious beliefs. The Act also requires employers to accommodate employees’ religious practices.

The following paragraphs briefly discuss surprising situations, facts, potential problems, and misnomers about Title VII’s prohibition on religious discrimination and corresponding accommodation requirement. Although some may or seem implausible and impractical, they are based on real cases and/or regulatory and administrative guidance.

1. Evidence that an Employer is Recruiting Employees Based on their Religious Beliefs is an Instance of Discrimination Based on Religion

Religious discrimination occurs when an applicant or employee is treated unfavorably due to his or her religious beliefs. Application of this principle is typically seen in the context of an employee being terminated or not offered a job because he or she is Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc. However, it is important to consider recruitment practices and how they are perceived. The EEOC lists an example of a Hindu gas station owner who advertises a position at the Hindu temple and tells his Hindu friends to recruit only Hindus for the job. By limiting the recruitment to just Hindus, the gas station owner is engaging in religious discrimination.

2. Failing to Hire an Employee Due to Fears About his or her Perception within the Current Workforce is Religious Discrimination

Employers want to maintain high morale within the workplace. Naturally, hiring managers keep this at the forefront of their minds when making decisions. However, taking into account someone’s social media posts or past writings about religion and failing to hire them because they would not be a “fit” is religious discrimination.

If a hiring manager reviews information about an applicant that reveals he wrote a paper advocating atheism, for example, then decides not to hire him (even though he was the most qualified applicant) for fear he would not fit in amongst a group of hardcore Christians within the department, this is religious discrimination. As previously discussed, just because it is the practical thing to do, does not make it legal.

3. Unique Beliefs Can be Religious

The EEOC and federal courts have granted Title VII protection to many unorthodox beliefs, so long as they are “sincerely held” (subject to many exceptions of course). However, in a surprising number of cases, courts have denied summary judgment, holding that an unorthodox belief was “religious” within the meaning of Title VII.

For example, when a member of an ancient Mufasan religion (who publicly acknowledges there are less than ten members) loyally follows the Mufasa faith’s concept (including the deity Mufasa the Lion and tribal practices, which include the tattooing of one’s arms with cryptic messages), and his employer asks him to cover the tattoos even after the employee has stated that a tenet of the religion is having the tattoos exposed to the gods, the employer is in violation of Title VII, even though the employee’s religion is practiced by such a small number of followers.

These three examples are a small sampling of the unique situations that can occur within the realm of Title VII religious discrimination and accommodation. Although it is impossible to discuss every situation that may or may not violate Title VII, it is essential to ensure that managers and employees are educated on the scope of religious protections and the ambiguities of religious discrimination laws. Check back periodically for further analysis and food for thought on this fascinating area of the law.

Syntrio, Inc. specializes in providing Ethics and HR compliance training. Contact us today at 888-289-6670 for a discussion on how we can help you and your business.


Age Discrimination and the EEOC

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of Nancy Washington, a 66 year-old woman who Harold Washington College failed to hire, allegedly because of her age. Ms. Sullivan worked as an adjunct professor in the English department for five years before she applied for a full-time position. An EEOC investigation revealed that Ms. Sullivan had an excellent record as an adjunct professor and quality recommendations from her peers, yet was still passed over in favor of younger candidates.

Age Discrimination Complaints Still High

In addition to its role as a federal investigatory agency for employment discrimination claims, the EEOC has an enforcement arm as well. In the majority of cases however, the EEOC tries to determine whether there is a cause of action for the employee to file a private lawsuit if their employer refuses to settle the claim.

In fiscal year 2013, the EEOC reported receiving 21,396 employee charges of age discrimination. This is a decline from the record-high of the more than 24,000, received in fiscal year 2008, but is still a staggering number that costs employers significant amounts of money.

Many older employees are reeling from the effects of age discrimination in the workforce. As the Chicago City College case study shows, well-qualified, older employees are frequently passed over for open positions in favor of younger candidates with the potential for longer tenures. This illegal workplace practice can yield costly results.

Age Discrimination Can be Confusing and Complex

Managers and HR professionals routinely reject older applicants or employees for being “overqualified” for certain positions. In today’s tightening job market, such discrimination can be devastating to older applicants seeking to remain in the workforce. An employer cannot refuse to hire an applicant simply out of a belief the applicant will be dissatisfied with job’s requirements. Courts routinely hold that the term “overqualified” is merely a veiled term for age discrimination.

Anti-Discrimination Training

Since the EEOC filed a lawsuit against the Chicago City College system on Ms. Sullivan’s behalf, the College will need to expend significant resources going forward. In addition to ensuring age-neutral policies in all aspects of employment, managers, supervisors and other school officials will need to be trained (or re-trained) to comply with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), Older Workers Benefits Protection Act (“OWBPA”), and other federal and state laws that address age discrimination. In this case, and many others, an ounce of effective prevention may have avoided a pound of expensive cure in the courts.

Syntrio, Inc. specializes in providing online Ethics and HR compliance training. Contact us today at 888-289-6670.