Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

What is Religious Discrimination? 

Religious discrimination occurs when an applicant or employee is treated unfavorably due to his or her religious beliefs.  Legal protections against religious discrimination extend not only to widely recognized religious beliefs, but also to those who have sincerely held religious, ethical, or moral beliefs.  Additionally, religious discrimination can occur when an employee or applicant is treated less favorably than someone else due to his or her marriage to a member of a particular religion or even association with a particular religious group.  Without a doubt, EEOC claims of religious discrimination in the workplace and civil lawsuits are on the rise, in part due to employers taking adverse employment action against employees who take time off to observe bona fide religious holidays.  

Can Employers Be Liable for Harassment on the Basis of Religion? 

Yes. It is illegal to harass a person on the basis of his or her religion. Harassment can include offensive remarks, degrading remarks, offensive conduct, frequent or pervasive teasing, or anything else that is so severe and pervasive that alters the terms and conditions of the working environment.   

Cadillac Dealership Required to Pay $100,000 in Religious Discrimination Case  

A Chicagoland Cadillac dealership recently agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit brought by three Arab Muslim employees who alleged that the dealership subjected them to a hostile working environment based on their religion.  According to the federal consent decree, the dealership also must provide periodic reports to the EEOC about future discrimination complaints and must provide mandatory training to employees about discrimination in the workplace.  

The lawsuit alleged that three Arab Muslim employees were routinely subjected to offensive slurs such as “terrorist”; “Hezbollah”; and were subjected to mocking references to the way that Muslims pray.  All of the negative stereotyping was allowed to continue in the dealership for a significant amount of time before the employees filed their discrimination complaint with the EEOC (and subsequent lawsuit).  Now the dealership is facing costly penalties that could have easily been avoided.  

Anti-Discrimination and Harassment Training Essential for Preventing Hostile Working Environments 

Pretending not to know (or being oblivious to) what is going on in the work environment is unlikely to be successful when such a pervasive environment of anti-Arab comments and overtly inappropriate behavior was allowed to persist.  Managers and supervisors have a legal responsibility to respond appropriately when they learn of harassment or discrimination in the workplace. They also have an obligation to prevent retaliation against victims and witnesses.  Training managers and supervisors of their legal obligation to respond to and prevent discrimination and harassment in the workplace is essential for preventing hostile work environments and defending against charges of harassment and discrimination.  

Syntrio, Inc. specializes in providing online Ethics and HR Compliance Training including religious harassment prevention and other anti-discrimination and harassment prevention topics. Contact us today at 888-289-6670 to discuss the ways Syntrio, Inc. can help your supervisors and HR professionals ensure that they are up to date with state and federal laws regarding equality and workplace diversity training. 


Posted in Diversity and Respect and tagged , , , .