Texas health care provider ordered to pay former employees for mandating prayer and religious discussions

by | Mar 29, 2021

Employees shouldn’t have to choose between remaining true to their faith and keeping their job. That fundamental principle, designed to safeguard the religious liberty rights of workers, is enshrined in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which among other things bars religious discrimination in the workplace. Courts have interpreted the law to forbid employers from, for example, requiring employees to participate in religious activities, as a medical practice in Texas learned earlier this month.

Shepherd Health Care was ordered to pay $375,000 and provide nondiscrimination training for all employees after 10 former employees accused the company of conducting mandatory prayer meetings and Bible readings. A Buddhist employee was fired after requesting to be excused from the religious activities, according to this report from HRMorning.

The EEOC enforces the employment discrimination provisions of the Civil Rights Act. In a press release announcing the court’s order, the agency offered a strong statement defending the religious liberty rights of workers to be free of this kind of requirement.

“Title VII protects employees from being required to accept their employer’s religious practices and beliefs as a condition of their employment,” said EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Meaghan Kuelbs. “These former employees were asked to begin every day with a discussion of Biblical principles and how those principles applied to their work and personal lives. This is not an activity that any employer can mandate.”

 In another recent case, Frito-Lay agreed to pay $50,000 for firing a new employee for missing required training that was scheduled for a Saturday, despite informing the company that as a Seventh-day Adventist he was unable to work on Saturdays.

The EEOC reports that in 2020, religious discrimination cases made up 3.6% (or 2,404) of the claims filed with the agency.