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What is Religious Discrimination?
Religious discrimination is any adverse or unfavorable treatment of a person on the basis of their religious beliefs. Religious discrimination can also be tangential, where a person is treated differently because they are associated with a religious person.
Religious discrimination occurs in all settings, such as housing applications or in the medical field, but is most rampant in the workplace. Employees are often fired due to religious beliefs or not hired at all because of discriminatory views of their religion.
Religious people often experience harassment in the workplace, whether it be overt and malicious or disguised as playful but demeaning.
Examples of religious discrimination include:
- Hiring or firing employees based solely on their religious beliefs
- Requiring employees to relinquish religious beliefs and practices to obtain employment
- Severe and widespread bullying of religious employees
- Withholding pay from religious employees
- Denying religious employee’s promotions or bonuses based solely on their beliefs
- Denying accommodation for religious workers
Denying religious employees’ accommodation is the most rampant form of religious discrimination in the workplace. Denying religious accommodation includes:
- Forcing employees to work on sabbath days.
- Not allowing hijabs or other religious clothing into the company’s dress code.
- Prohibiting employees from displaying religious iconography.
- Performing other shows of their beliefs.
Protection from Religious Discrimination
The law protects people from traditional religious backgrounds such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism, as well as those who practice lesser-known religions and other ethical or moral beliefs.
Employees do not have to belong to an organized religion to be protected from religious discrimination. Workers who practice religions held by only a few people or a single individual are protected. By the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) definition, religion pertains to “ultimate ideas” about “life, purpose, and death.” Personal preferences are not considered religious beliefs.
Anti-religious discrimination law applies to both potential and existing employees. If you are fired or demoted on the basis of your religion, you are protected by the law and can file a discrimination claim. Likewise, if an employer opts not to hire you based solely on religion, you are protected.
Under Title VII, employers must accommodate an employee’s religious practices, except in cases where accommodation would cause undue hardship to the employer. Religious employees are entitled to flexible scheduling, shift swaps, job reassignment, and transfers within the company if they wish.
Title VII applies to private employers, state and local governments, and educational institutions with at least 15 employees. Title VII laws also apply to employment agencies and labor organizations. However, the minimum number of employees needed to file a discrimination claim varies by state.
Discrimination protections include harassment. The law forbids severe harassment based on religion. Each of the following examples constitutes harassment:
- Derogatory, demeaning or insulting remarks about a particular religion or a person’s belief
- Frequent teasing that leads to a hostile work environmen
- Quid pro quo harassment, where employers tease religious employees or require them to relinquish their beliefs as a condition of employment
Florida law does not prohibit minor or infrequent teasing of religious people. The EEOC states that for religious jokes or teasing to be considered harassment, the behavior must be severe and pervasive.
Under federal law, it is illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who exercise their right to religious freedom. Suppose an employer retaliates against an employee who comes forward about religious discrimination by terminating, demoting, harassing, or stripping them of pay and benefits. In that case, the employee has the right to file a discrimination lawsuit against their employer.
Employers are legally required to accommodate an employee’s religious commitments, whether or not the employee made them aware of their religious beliefs. If an employer suspects an applicant or current employee might require religious accommodation, they must make such arrangements to provide accommodation. Refusing to hire an employee on suspicion of religious accommodation needs violates federal law.
- Reasonable accommodation for religious employees includes:
- Excusing employees from duties that conflict with their beliefs
- Allowing them to adhere to their religion’s dress code by wearing garments such as hijabs, yarmulkes, and turbans.
- Allow employees leave to observe religious holidays and practices such as Good Friday or Sabbath days
- Excusing atheists from and religious invocations
- Allowing schedules that accommodate daily prayer times.
I Am Experiencing Religious Discrimination at Work. What Should I Do?
There are some steps you can take to resolve religious discrimination before taking legal action. If a fellow employee is harassing you, you can take the matter into your own hands and ask them to stop. Let them know that you plan to speak with upper management if the issue persists and take further action if necessary.
If your colleague continues to harass you about your religion, raise the issue with a superior. Employers are required to resolve religious discrimination disputes between employees.
To help your employer mediate issues, make sure you are upfront about your religious beliefs and practices when you are hired. To be on the safe side, detail your religious commitments in writing so you will have proof your employer was aware. You should keep copies of everything you write to your employer as backup.
If your employer, rather than a colleague, harasses you or takes adverse action against you due to your religion, you can follow the same steps and make them aware that their behaviour has a negative impact on you.
If your employer refuses to rectify their behavior, you may want to file a grievance or take legal action. Unionized employees can file grievances with their union. Alternatively, employees can file a discrimination claim with the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) or the EEOC.
Filing a Discrimination Claim
If you decide to file a discrimination claim against your employer, you only need to file with one agency. The FCHR and the EEOC work cooperatively to process discrimination claims. If you want your claim to be evaluated by both agencies, you must indicate that you want to cross-file the claim.
Each agency has set deadlines for discrimination claims. If you file with the FCHR, you must make your claim within one year of the date the discrimination occurred. If you file with the EEOC, you must file within 300 days of the discriminatory action.
You do not have to have an attorney to file a discrimination claim with federal or state agencies. However, if you are unclear about discrimination laws or how to file a discrimination claim, consulting an attorney before doing so can help. An attorney can provide insight into the strength of your claim and help you with the process.
Once your claim is processed, the EEOC will take one of the following measures:
- Propose you and your employer go through mediation to resolve the dispute
- Question your employer and ask them for written answers relevant to your claim, which will then be handed over to an investigator
- Dismiss the claim because it was filed past the deadline or for alternate reasons
If your claim is approved, the EEOC may decide to investigate the claim. Investigators will evaluate the workplace and take witness statements to gather evidence of the discrimination. Investigations take six months on average, so it is often easier to reach a settlement through mediation. Mediation takes about three months on average.
If the EEOC rules that discrimination did not occur, they will provide you with a notice of right to sue.
If the EEOC finds that discrimination occurred, they will try to reach a settlement with your employer. If no settlement is reached, your case will be handed over to the EEOC’s legal staff or the Department of Justice, who will then decide whether or not to file a lawsuit.
If the EEOC decides against filing a lawsuit, they will provide you with a notice of right to sue. Once you receive a notice of right to sue, you can consider filing a lawsuit against your employer.
Filing a Discrimination Lawsuit
If the FCHR or EEOC did not resolve your case, you might want to consider filing a lawsuit. Note that you cannot file a federal employment discrimination lawsuit without first filing a claim with the EEOC and subsequently having that claim dismissed.
Similarly, before filing an employment discrimination lawsuit with the state, you must first file with the FCHR and have that claim dismissed. However, if the FCHR finds that your case had no “cause” or merit, you cannot pursue legal action through the state courts.
If you wish to file a lawsuit against your employer for religious discrimination, you must do so within a designated time frame.
Lawsuits based on federal discrimination claims must be filed within 90 days of receiving a notice of right to sue. Lawsuits based on state discrimination claims must be filed within four years of the discriminatory incident. If the FCHR issued a “probable cause” finding in your case, you must file a lawsuit within one year of the agency’s conclusion.
Should I Hire an Attorney for My Religious Discrimination Lawsuit?
Religious discrimination can be hard to prove. An employment attorney can help you compile adequate evidence against your employer. An attorney will be able to evaluate the strength of your case and lay out your options.
Most workers don’t have the time to handle their own religious discrimination cases. Opting for an experienced lawyer can help take some of the stress out of an already emotionally draining situation. If you have the resources to do so, hiring an attorney to fight for you will benefit you in the long run.
How Long do Religious Discrimination Cases Take to Settle?
While there is no definitive answer for how long discrimination cases take to settle, they take a year or longer on average. Higher value cases take longer to settle; more is at stake, so both parties are willing to fight harder to win.
What Compensation Can I Receive from my Religious Discrimination Lawsuit?
In a religious discrimination lawsuit, you are entitled to recover any wages you lost due to the discrimination. If you were terminated or demoted, you should be able to recover the wages you would have made had you not been discriminated against.
You are also eligible to recover damages for pain and suffering. Religious discrimination can cause emotional turmoil that, in turn, can lead to symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. If you had to seek therapy due to stress caused by religious discrimination, you might be able to recover the cost.
Legal fees can also be recovered from religious discrimination lawsuits. If you win your case, your employer may have to pay your legal expenses, including attorney fees.
In cases of extreme religious discrimination, you may be able to file for punitive damages. Punitive damages are a form of punishment for bad behavior on the employer or corporation’s behalf. Punitive damages are rare. For the court to rule for punitive damages, you must prove that your employer’s behavior was ill-natured, vindictive, or oppressive.
Free Religious Discrimination Consultation
Religious discrimination can interfere with your well-being. Our team of lawyers at the Lopez Law Group is ready to hear about your religious discrimination experience and help you recover. Consultations are free and available at any time. Give us a call today at (727) 933-0015 to discuss your options.
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