- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued a New York City-based pediatric practice over allegations that it unlawfully fired an employee who asked to be excused from a company party because of her religious beliefs. EEOC said Pediatrics 2000 violated Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964 in failing to provide a reasonable religious accommodation.
- When the employee asked to be excused from attending the holiday party — which would subject her to "entertainment, immoderate drinking or dancing" that would violate her beliefs as a Jehovah's Witness — the practice fired the worker "on the spot" via text message from the company's owner and founder, EEOC said. The owner's text allegedly said: "[T]his is your last day of employment. [W]e can't tolerate religious privileges from anyone." The company allowed others to skip the party for non-religious reasons, EEOC said
- The EEOC has asked for lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages, and that the company be required to train its employees on prohibitions against religious discrimination found in federal law.
Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against workers based on religion and requires employers to reasonably accommodate an employee's sincerely held religious beliefs unless doing so would pose an undue hardship for the employer, such as imposing excessive cost or compromising workplace safety, the EEOC says in its guidance on religious discrimination.
Common religious accommodations include flexible scheduling, voluntary shift substitutions and job reassignments. However, employees are not entitled to the accommodation they prefer. For example, a truck driver who asked for Sundays off was not entitled to his accommodation of choice, the 11th Circuit ruled. The employer's offer of different routes that paid less was a reasonable religious accommodation to the worker's request for Sundays off because the new routes eliminated the conflict between the driver's employment requirements and his religious practices, the court said.
Similarly, the 10th Circuit ruled that a worker was given a reasonable accommodation, although not the one he wanted, when he was allowed to skip weekend work after he asked that his mandatory overtime be switched from Saturday to Sunday to accommodate his religious beliefs. The employee took his claim to court because he was unhappy about the loss of income that resulted from the lack of overtime.
While employers don't have to grant the preferred accommodation, they are expected to engage in an interactive, good-faith process to determine worker accommodations. This makes compliance training for managers, especially, a good idea. HR may want to make sure that managers are trained to handle requests and to listen for clues that suggest a need for accommodation even if there is no "official" request.
But sometimes training has to extend beyond managers and supervisors to corporate higher-ups. In the statement announcing the lawsuit, an EEOC attorney said, "Owners and others at the top of the corporate hierarchy are not above the requirements of Title VII, including that law's protections against religious discrimination. Businesses need to make sure that their executives are fully aware of and comply with Title VII."