Steep Rise in Workplace Religious Discrimination Claims

Monday, 28 Oct 2013 12:04 PM

By Courtney Coren

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Religious discrimination complaints in the workplace have more than doubled over the last 15 years and appear to be growing faster than other types of complaints.

In 2012, there were 3,811 religion-based complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the second-highest number in a year ever recorded, after 2011, when 4,151 complaints were filed, The Wall Street Journal reports.

While age, sex, race, and disability claims are still much higher, religious claims are increasing at a faster rate and have doubled in the last decade and a half.

However, the number of actual lawsuits alleging religious discrimination has dropped by half since 2010, because the EEOC has been encouraging employers to resolve complaints before they get to that point, primarily by educating employers about what constitutes religious discrimination.

In 2012, there were nine lawsuits; in 2010 there were 24.

Religion and law experts cite immigration as one of the main causes of increased cases of religious discrimination, as well as more boldness among employees to challenge the religious practices of their employers.

The reasons for complaints are various, including employees who are docked or fired for refusing to work on their sabbath, for wearing religious garb that challenges employers'
dress codes, or for refusing to deliver or serve alcohol.

One lawsuit filed in September by an evangelical Christian who worked at a Consol Energy Inc. mine involved his refusal to submit to the biometric hand-scanning technology the company uses to clock workers in and out. The employee said it made him uncomfortable because of warnings in the Bible about the mark of the Antichrist.

Consol had already allowed other employees who had missing fingers to clock in and out by other means, but it refused to make an exception for the worker based on his religious beliefs, the Journal reported, citing the lawsuit.

A recent Wal-Mart lawsuit ended with a Mormon employee awarded $70,000 after  refusing to work on Sundays because he said it violated his religious beliefs.

The retailer Abercrombie & Fitch also recently settled a case, with two women who said they were discriminated against because they wore hijabs, the Muslim head covering. One said she was fired because her religious garb violated the "Look Policy" dress code, and the other alleges she was never hired because she was discriminated against in the interview process. The company settled for $71,000.

Employers are generally required by law to accommodate workers as long as it does not create an "undue hardship" for their business.

Related Stories:

Christian Student in Discrimination Case May Leave University
Teacher Fired for Bible Gift to Student Is Fighting Back

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