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.


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