Written by Don Byrd
The EEOC has filed two recent religious discrimination lawsuits – one showing the need for employers to restrain from forcing their faith on workers, the other showing the need to accommodate workers’ whose faith mandates may conflict with certain job requirements.
In EEOC v. Georgia Blue, the agency alleges an employee was fired after a Mississippi restaurant refused to allow her a religious exception to company policy requiring employees to wear blue jeans. Kaetoya Watkins’ religious beliefs as a Pentecostal Christian forbid her from wearing pants, so she offered to wear a denim skirt instead. The complaint asks a federal court to stop enforcing the dress code in a way that discriminates on the basis of religion.
Meanwhile, in EEOC v. Tim Shepherd, a complaint was filed on behalf of employees who work at a physician’s office in Texas. They allege that they were required to participate in Bible studies and religious discussions at work.
One employee who worked in the Shepherd Healthcare call center asked to be excused from the meetings as she is a follower of Buddhist principles and does not ascribe to the Christian beliefs of the owners of the business. According to the complaint, the business owners denied her accommodation request and required her to attend the meetings. Finally, in June 2016, she spoke with the owners again and was told, per the complaint, that her accommodation would be denied and she should “think about new employment.” The next day she was fired.
You can read the complaint here.
Federal law requires employers to accommodate the religious beliefs of employees as long as to do so would not place an undue burden on the business. That can mean trying to accommodate everything from dress codes to whether an employee can wear long hair required by his faith. But it also means that an employer covered by the law cannot require workers to participate in religious activities. An employee should not have to choose between her livelihood and her faith. Pushing one’s religion on employees is just as problematic as denying them the right to follow their own.