What to Do If You Encounter Religious Discrimination In the Workplace

Federal and state law prohibit an employer from discriminating against an employee (or prospective employee) because of his or her religion. The law defines “religion” as including all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief. An employer cannot refuse to hire or terminate an employee, demote or fail to promote an employee, or create a hostile environment for an employee based upon the employee’s religion. An employer must also reasonably accommodate an employee's religious practice unless to do so would case the employer to incur an undue hardship.

In 2016, 3,825 workplace religious discrimination charges were filed with the EEOC. Find out what to do if you’ve been discriminated against in the workplace due to your religion.

Steps to Take if You Experience Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

File an Internal Complaint with your Employer

Check to see if there is an anti-discrimination policy in your company’s employee handbook, and file an internal complaint with the company or organization. Consulting with an attorney before filing an internal complaint is advisable. 

File a Claim of Religious Discrimination - New Hampshire Law RSA 354-A

If you are dealing with an employer in the state of New Hampshire (or if you perform your work in New Hampshire), law RSA 354-A requires you to file a claim of religious discrimination with the New Hampshire Human Rights Commission (HRC) in Concord, New Hampshire, within 180 days of the last act of discrimination or any adverse job action. That ensures you have filed a timely claim under our state anti-discrimination statute. 

To file under RSA-354-A, the employer must have six or more employees.

File a Claim of Religious Discrimination - Federal Law, Title VII

In order to file a claim under Title VII, you first need to file a claim with the HRC or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the government agencies that investigate charges of religious discrimination and lack of religious accommodation in the workforce. To file this claim with the HRC or the EEOC, you must do so within 300 days of any adverse job action, and the employer must have more than 15 employees.

How to Win Your Lawsuit

For an employee to win in a claim of religious discrimination, he or she must be able to prove that more likely than not, the employer took an adverse action against the employee because of the employee’s religion. The employee’s religion cannot be a motivating factor in an employment decision.

Normally, the employer will defend a case of religious discrimination by claiming that it took action against the employee (or prospective employee) for a different, non-discriminatory reason. To win the lawsuit, the employee is required to show that the employer’s stated reason for its actions was not the real reason, and that the real reason is religious discrimination.  

In addition, an employee can prevail in a claim of religious discrimination if he or she can prove that, more likely than not, the employer failed to make reasonable accommodations for the employee’s religious observance and practice.

EEOC Religious Discrimination Case Study

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court considered the EEOC’s religious discrimination case against Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. A practicing Muslim, consistent with her understanding of her religion’s requirements, wore a headscarf while applying for a job in an Abercrombie store.  The store’s assistant manager was concerned that the employee’s headscarf would conflict with the store’s Look Policy, which prohibited wearing “caps." 

The store manager believed that the employee was wearing the headscarf for religious purposes but did not ask the employee about it.  The Supreme Court found that even though the store did not have specific knowledge that the employee was wearing the headscarf for religious reasons, and would be requesting accommodation under the neutral Look Policy, Abercrombie could be held liable for a failure to hire, in violation of the religious discrimination law. The Court noted that even if the Look Policy was a neutral policy (not aimed at employee’s religious practices), Title VII requires otherwise neutral policies to give way to the need for an accommodation.

The legal requirements for protecting your ability to bring a lawsuit against your employer, if you believe you have been discriminated against on the basis of religion, are complicated and can be confusing. Reach out to a knowledgeable employment attorney if you believe you have been discriminated against on the basis of religion.

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