- A Wiccan professor at a Catholic university is alleging she was improperly denied a promotion and then was asked to resign a deanship because of her sex and her religion, in violation of Title VII and state law (Hoffmann v. St. Bonaventure University, No. 19-cv-679 (W.D.N.Y. May 28, 2019)).
- According to the complaint, after her status as a Wiccan was disclosed at work, the professor was asked to sign a document vowing to uphold Catholic values. When she asked if she would have to sign it if she were Jewish, the provost told her, "I guess not." He also said, "You might not want to be so overt about being a witch if you want to move up," according to the complaint. A nun at the school, Sister Margaret, told her, "I took a big chance hiring you as a Wiccan." The professor was later told by a new provost that "Sister Margaret really has it in for you."
- The professor also said she was given a two-year contract when she was hired as dean; all of the other deans, who were male, allegedly received three-year contracts and higher pay.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers with at least 15 employees, as well as employment agencies and unions, from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin.
There is an exception, however, for organizations whose "purpose and character are primarily religious." According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), those organizations are allowed to "give employment preference to members of their own religion." They are not allowed to otherwise discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. For example, says the EEOC, a religious organization is not permitted to engage in racially discriminatory hiring by asserting that a tenet of its religious beliefs is not associating with people of other races.
The religious organization exception to Title VII is narrow and does not apply to the vast majority of U.S. workplaces. With that in mind, how can HR best prevent claims of bias?
Supervisors need to be given the tools they need, both to succeed at work and to help prevent bias lawsuits, and conversational professionalism is a big part of this. An HR manager in a recent religious accommodation lawsuit provided an excellent explanation of a training requirement to a "born-again" Christian employee who objected to answering a question about transgender issues.
While training may appear basic, between 40% and 59% of managers report having no training at all. And 44% feel overwhelmed at work.
Training is essential to staying out of court, but it's also an important component of employee retention and satisfaction.
Correction: An earlier version of this story included an outdated quote and title. The story has been updated to remove the reference.