The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees that everyone in the United States has the right to exercise his or her own religion, or no religion at all. While society has generally become more tolerant and respectful of different religions, it is a sad reality that religious discrimination persists in the workplace today.
Under both state and federal law, it is illegal for an employer to treat a person unfairly or differently based on his or her religious beliefs or practices. This type of behavior is considered discrimination and can be grounds for a religious discrimination lawsuit against the employer.
If you believe your employer is discriminating against you based on your religious beliefs, the Los Angeles religious discrimination lawyers at Shegerian & Associates can ensure that your rights are thoroughly protected.
Laws Protecting Employees From Religious Discrimination
Discrimination based on an individual’s religion is a violation of both state and federal law.
The California Workplace Religious Freedom Act (WRFA) of 2012 was an expansion of the protections outlined in the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) with respect to religion. According to FEHA, it is unlawful for an employer to take unfair actions against someone because of their:
- Religious creed
- Religious observances
- Religious beliefs
- Religious garments
- Religious grooming practices
Similarly, Title Vll of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers on a federal level from discriminating against individuals in any way due to their religions. Unfair actions against an employee that are deemed religious discrimination can include:
- Refusal to interview or hire a job applicant
- Refusal to select an employee for an apprenticeship or job training program
- Firing or laying off an employee
- Passing up a qualified employee for a promotion or raise
- Unfair enforcement of workplace policy and procedures
- Discrimination in terms of conditions of employment, privileges of employment, or work benefits
- Refusal to provide reasonable accommodations
Religious discrimination laws also apply to certain situations outside of employment. They also apply to labor organizations, unions, or training programs, which are prohibited from expelling individuals or withholding membership from them based on religious beliefs or practices.
Employers also have a legal responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations for certain religious beliefs or observances. They are required to make these accommodations as long as they do not cause “undue hardship,” which may include significant difficulty or expenses paid by the employer.
Protections against religious discrimination apply to all religions, including those who are a part of traditional and organized religions such as:
These protections also apply to all the branches and various denominations of the above religions, as well as any other religion that Title Vll defines in terms of “sincerely held beliefs.” The concept of “sincerely held beliefs” also carries over to groups not typically considered religious, but whose personal ethics, principles, or acts of self-expression can be reasonably compared to a religious moral code.
Therefore, atheists, agnostics, humanists, and others are also frequently protected from religious discrimination. This means a right not to participate in workplace religious ceremonies or prayers, and, in some cases, a right to forms of self-expression like facial hair, tattoos, and piercings.
The concept of “sincerely held beliefs” carries over to groups not typically considered religious, but whose personal ethics, principles, or acts of self-expression can be reasonably compared to a religious moral code. Therefore, no matter which religion an employee practices or lack thereof, an employer must not violate certain protected rights involving the expression of sincerely held beliefs in the workplace.
Exceptions and Limitations to Religious Discrimination Laws
While religious discrimination laws are fairly broad, there are exceptions and limitations. For instance, a religious organization may be able to restrict eligibility for employment in certain cases. Typically, this needs to mean that the job or position involves religious duties or demands. This may include:
- Religious charities
- Schools or universities
However, this exception is generally limited to roles that involve religious duties and does not apply to health care roles. Another exception is when religious discrimination would violate the law. For instance, sexual harassment or gender discrimination on the basis of religious attitudes about men and women is not legal.
Employers are required to provide religious accommodations to employees for beliefs and observances. However, accommodations are granted so long as they do not cause the employer “undue hardship” or expenses. In practice, you’ll need to consult with a religious discrimination lawyer to get a better understanding of the legality of workplace practices in your particular situation.
Protections Offered to Employees
State and federal law offers certain protection to employees based on religious beliefs. This means that your employers cannot take unfair action you, including the following practices:
- Refuse to hire you
- Refuse to select you for an apprenticeship or job training program
- Fire you or lay you off
- Deny you a promotion that you were qualified for
- Deny benefits, including health insurance
- Deny you a raise or bonus
- Force you to quit
- Deny reasonable accommodations for religion-based requests
- Harass you or create a hostile work environment
For instance, a Mormon, Muslim, or atheist working in a predominantly-Baptist organization has a right to not be mocked, interrogated, or otherwise harassed because of their religion. The law also applies to employees whose spouse practices a particular religion, or lack thereof.
An employer must also accommodate reasonable religion-based requests. For instance, the law requires that an employee may request time set aside to pray, and a private area for devotion or worship. An employer must also accommodate certain expressions of religious dress or appearance. Unless such accommodations are unreasonably costly, hazardous, or otherwise burdensome to a business, an employer must by law honor these requests.
Employers who deny reasonable religion-based requests, without providing clear evidence that such accommodations would cause undue burden to the business, might be engaging in religious discrimination, and would therefore be in violation of the law and liable for damages.
If you have been a victim of religious discrimination, you have certain rights. The first step you should take is hiring a religious discrimination attorney who can help you enforce those rights. Your attorney will most likely initially file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the California Civil Rights Department (CRD).
The EEOC enforces federal discrimination laws while the CRD enforces state discrimination laws. California typically offers broader protections to employees, so many people prefer to file religious discrimination claims with the CRD. Before filing a lawsuit against your employer, you are required to exhaust all other legal remedies first.
This means that you will have to go through the CRD complaint process first before you get a “right to sue” notice. However, your religious discrimination lawyer can file a complaint to obtain an immediate “right to sue” notice, which means that you have a right to sue without waiting for the administrative process first.
At this point, you have the right to file a lawsuit against your employer. Your religious discrimination attorney in Los Angeles will file the case with the California Superior Court, in the county where the discrimination occurred, or another relevant county. Your employer and any other defendants will be served the complaint and have the change to make a formal response.
The case will proceed to litigation, where it may eventually lead to a trial. However, at any point during litigation, you and your employer are able to negotiate a settlement outside of court. The damages available to you will depend on the nature, severity, and extent of the discrimination you were subject to. In general, you may be entitled to damages for:
- Back pay
- Front pay
- Higher income from a promotion, raise, or bonus
- Benefits, including health insurance and pension
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Attorney costs and legal fees
Contact Shegerian & Associates and Fight for Your Religious Rights
The first step to fighting against discrimination in the workplace is to contact the qualified religious lawyers at Shegerian & Associates, who will discuss your personal situation with you and explain your legal rights and options.
The consultation is free, and in fact you won’t pay anything unless we win a verdict or settlement in your favor. Contact us today, and fight back against religious discrimination at work.