IHOP dishwasher allegedly fired for refusing to join prayer group
- An IHOP dishwasher has filed a lawsuit against a Pennsylvania restaurant operator, alleging that he was fired for refusing to participate in a prayer group, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Grinage v RMLS-HOP Restaurants PA, L.P. d/b/a IHOP Corp., No. 2:05-mc-02025 (W.D. Pa., June 18, 2018)).
- Matthew Grinage alleged that most of the employees and managers at the Pittsburgh IHOP prayed together every day. He was often asked to join and, when he declined, he was told that he was going to hell because he had been sick with cancer; that he was “too soft” and not a “real man”; and that homosexual men are going to hell. Grinage complained to managers. One recommended that he join them in prayer, and another refused to help because she was leaving the company, he said. Eventually, he was sent home for refusing to join the group.
- Grinage escalated his concerns to the franchise owner, who also suggested that he stop making big deal out of the situation and join the group. He then reached out to corporate but, at the time of the filing, had not heard back. In a one-count complaint, Grinage alleged that he was harassed about praying, ignored by managers and then terminated. The suit seeks lost wages, front pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, court costs, attorney fees and interest.
Many religious discrimination claims arise when an employee's request for an accommodation is not fulfilled, but HR and front-line managers must understand the other ways in which the law applies.
Title VII’s prohibition on religious discrimination also protects employees who don't want to participate in religious events at work. Covered employers are not allowed to coerce employees to engage in or abandon religious practices, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Just weeks ago, a jury awarded $5.1 million to 10 workers who claimed they were forced to participate in a variety of religious activities at work as part of a belief system devised by a relative of the company’s CEO. In a unanimous verdict, the jury said the company created a hostile work environment by coercing workers to take part in religious activities such as prayer, religious workshops and spiritual cleansing.
Religious discrimination also occurs when an employer allows workers to harass a co-worker about his or her religion, or lack thereof, EEOC says. Harassment can include, among other things, offensive remarks about a person's religious beliefs or practices. And although the law doesn't prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren't serious, activities can rise to the level of actionable harassment when they are so frequent or severe that they create a hostile or offensive work environment or when they result in an adverse employment action against the employee in question.
- U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania Matthew Grinage v. RMLS-HOP Restaurants PA, L.P. d/b/a IHOP Corporation
- HR Dive Jury awards $5.1M to 10 workers forced to participate in prayer, religious workshops
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Religious discrimination