Articles Posted in Religious Discrimination

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A Muslim flight attendant recently filed an employment discrimination complaint against her employer, ExpressJet, because she claimed that it unlawfully refused to accommodate her religious beliefs.  The flight attendant, Charee Stanley, claims that it would violate her religious beliefs if she served alcohol to passengers on flights.  According to Ms. Stanley, ExpressJet suspended her because she refused to serve alcohol to passengers.

Ms. Stanley claims that before her suspension she had worked out an arrangement with her co-workers, at the direction of her supervisor, where her co-worker would serve alcohol to a passenger, instead of Ms. Stanley, if the passenger ordered an alcoholic beverage.  Ms. Stanley says that this arrangement worked just fine until a co-worker complained that Ms. Stanley was not doing her job.  This same co-worker allegedly also said in her complaint that Ms. Stanley carried a book with “foreign writings” and wore a headdress.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires employers to accommodate the religious beliefs of their employees provided that the accommodation does not create an undue hardship for the employer.  Ms. Stanley contends that her requested accommodation would not create an undue hardship for ExpressJet because she and her co-workers were managing just fine until this one co-worker filed a complaint.

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A group of six former employees of Hertz have reportedly sued the company for religious discrimination.  The employees worked for Hertz at the Minneapolis – St. Paul airport.  They claim that managers demeaned their religion, placed arbitrary restrictions on their ability to pray at work, and ultimately fired them allegedly because of their religion.

Hertz managers allegedly made disparaging remarks about Islam and the former employees.  They reportedly made comments such as “if you pray continuously, you will make us lose money and no Muslims will be hired.”  Another manager allegedly said “your religion is lying.  The Qur’an is lying.  You’re a liar,” and “your religion is stupid.”

Managers also allegedly entered the room designated for the Muslim employees to pray in and checked employees’ badges.  According to Nadif Ketibe, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, the prayer room was supposed to be “only for praying people.”  “In my religion,” he said, “when I am praying, I am not supposed to be distracted by anything.”  Mr. Ketibe also said that managers would wear their shoes in the prayer room while the employees were praying, which also contravenes Muslim practice.

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Fifty years ago, in July 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.  Through this landmark piece of legislation, the federal government sought, among other things, to dismantle abhorrent “Jim Crow” laws in the South which rendered African Americans second class citizens.

A strong minority of legislators in Congress fought bitterly to try to defeat the Civil Rights Act.  They argued that the Civil Rights Act would unconstitutionally usurp state rights and impair individual liberty.  Thanks, in part, to the work of civil rights activists like Dr. Martin Luther King and John Lewis, who helped the entire nation and its members of Congress to see the horrors of segregation and Jim Crow, enough members of Congress banded together to pass the law.

Interestingly, before the Civil Rights Act passed, opponents to the law added an amendment to bar sex discrimination in employment.  This tactic backfired.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination, passed with not only landmark protections against race discrimination, religious discrimination, and national origin discrimination, but also with landmark protections against sex discrimination.

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A group of sociologists recently conducted experiments in New England and the Southern United States to determine whether the inclusion of a religious identifier on a resume affected an applicant’s chances of getting hired.  The sociologists found that applicants who included a religious identifier on their resumes decreased their chances of getting hired both in New England and in the South.

The experiment entailed sending out thousands of resumes with identical qualifications but with different indicators of the applicants’ religious beliefs.  For instance, some of the resumes said that the applicant had been a member of his university’s association of Catholic students.

In New England, the sociologists found significant levels of discrimination against Muslims and, to a lesser extent, atheists, pagans, and Catholics. However, on the whole, the sociologists found that the level of religious discrimination in New England is relatively low.  They thought this relatively low level of discrimination was likely because of New Englanders’ relatively low level of religiosity and high amount of religious tolerance.

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued new guidance today regarding the rights of employees to dress and groom themselves consistently with their religious beliefs. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as well as the Maine Human Rights Act, employers must accommodate employees who, for instance, wear particular types of head coverings or grow facial hair for religious purposes. For instance, for religious reasons, some Jewish people wear yarmulkes, some Sikhs wear turbans, and some Muslims wear beards. Unless an employer can show that it would suffer an undue hardship, it must permit employees to wear religious garb and groom themselves consistent with their religious beliefs.

Among other things, the EEOC’s new guidance makes clear that an employer may not refuse to permit a person to wear religious clothing merely because some of its customers object. For instance, if an employee at a coffee shop wears a turban for religious reasons, the coffee shop may not force him to stop wearing the turban merely to appease the customers.

If your employer has refused to accommodate your religious beliefs, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer to learn more about your rights.

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The party in control of the Quebec provincial government, Parti Quebecois, is trying to pass a law which would prohibit public employees from wearing religious headwear such as hijabs, turbans, and yarmulkes. Parti Quebecois is a political party that wants Quebec to separate from Canada and become its own sovereign nation. Ironically, this new law banning religious headwear could provoke more Canadian involvement in Quebec’s affairs because the federal Canadian government may seek to block the law in court.

The Quebec Liberal Party strongly opposes the proposed law. “The big mistake that the government is making is to make people believe that, in order to defend what is specific about Quebec, we must trample on other people’s rights,” said Philippe Couillard, the leader of the Quebec Liberal Party.

In Maine, there are federal and state (MHRC Reg. 3.10(C)) laws which would prohibit any employer from instituting a blanket ban on all religious headwear. Employers must reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs of their employees. If an employee wears headwear due to a sincere religious belief, the employer must permit the employee to wear it at work unless the employer can show that permitting the employee to wear the religious headwear would cause it to suffer an “undue hardship.”

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On March 22, 2013, the First Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Mohegan Council of the Boy Scouts of America’s appeal that it filed following a trial in which a jury found that it discriminated against a former employee on the basis of his religion and national origin. The former employee, Kamal Aly, is an Egyptian-American Muslim who worked for the Boy Scouts as a District Executive. The jury found that the Boy Scouts denied Mr. Aly the ability to advance to the position of Senior Executive Director because of his religion and national origin.

According to Mr. Aly, the Boy Scouts failed to send him for training that he needed in order to obtain a promotion to the position of Senior Executive Director. The Boy Scouts claimed that it did not send Mr. Aly for this training because of issues with his job performance. However, Mr. Aly’s performance reviews were relatively good. The Boy Scouts also claimed that it did not send Mr. Aly for training because of complaints it had received from some volunteers. However, Mr. Aly had previously reported to his supervisor that these volunteers were discriminating against him because he was Muslim. The volunteers’ discriminatory treatment came on the heels of Mr. Aly’s efforts to recruit new Boy Scout members and volunteers at local area mosques. The Boy Scouts never investigated Mr. Aly’s complaint of discriminatory treatment. The Boy Scouts also claimed that it did not send Mr. Aly for training because of budgetary constraints but this reason did not seem plausible because Mr. Aly offered to pay for the training himself and forgo a pay raise when he returned. Also, the Boy Scouts sent someone else for the training that Mr. Aly requested despite its supposed budgetary constraints.

Since the Boy Scouts’ explanations for its actions could be seen as excuses that lacked credibility, the First Circuit held that the jury acted reasonably when it inferred that discrimination motivated the Boy Scouts’ decision to deny Mr. Aly career advancement opportunities. This is a rather common way for employees to prove that their employer’s discriminated against them. Employers rarely admit that they discriminated against an employee. Instead, they offer untrue excuses to cover up or rationalize their discrimination. Experienced employment lawyers are good at proving these excuses are just a “smoke screen” for discrimination.

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A former Muslim employee of the Walt Disney Co. has filed a lawsuit against Disney for religious discrimination. The former employee, Imane Boudlal, is a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Morocco. According to her lawsuit, while she worked at the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa’s Storyteller’s Café, co-workers harassed her by calling her offensive names such as “terrorist” and “camel;” and telling her that she “spoke the terrorist language” and was “trained to make bombs.” She says that management took no action after she complained about these offensive comments.

Ms. Bouldal also alleges that Disney management failed to reasonably accommodate her religious beliefs. According to the lawsuit, after working at the restaurant for a time, Ms. Boudlal asked for permission to wear a hijab, a traditional Muslim head covering. She wanted to start to wear her hijab at work because her religion required her to wear it and also the Muslim holy month of Ramadan was about to begin. Disney refused to let her wear her hijab because it claimed that the hijab conflicted with its “look” policy even though it allegedly allowed other employees at the restaurant to come to work with visibly displayed tattoos, crosses, and other religious insignia. As a compromise, Ms. Boudlal offered to wear a hijab that matched the color of her uniform and to put a Disney logo on it but management still refused. Ultimately, Disney management would only let her wear her hijab at work if she worked in the back of the restaurant where no customers would interact with her or if she wore an oversized hat over it. When Ms. Boudlal said that she found the options that Disney management offered humiliating and inconsistent with her religion, Disney fired her.

Maine and federal law both prohibit harassment based on an employee’s religion and require employers to reasonably accommodate employees’ religious beliefs. If you have experienced religious discrimination similar to Ms. Bouldal, you should seek advice from an experienced employment lawyer.

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Glenn Mack, Jr., a muslim man who formerly worked at a Whole Foods grocery store in Philadelphia, is suing the company for religious discrimination. Mr. Mack’s troubles with Whole Foods began when he notified management of his intention to take 18 days off from work so that he could go on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Mr. Mack was told that he was not guaranteed his job back when he returned from his pilgrimage. His supervisor told him “you can choose, it’s either your job or your religion.”

Mr. Mack chose his religion and went on his pilgrimage. Pilgrimages of this kind, called Hajj, are a requirement for all muslim people who are capable of traveling to Mecca.

When Mr. Mack returned from Hajj, Whole Foods demoted him from full-time to part-time status. Co-workers also began to interfere with his prayer time. Prior to his pilgrimage, he had always gone to pray in a secluded area away from customers during the periods of the day when his religion dictated that he pray. Due to interference from co-workers, he resorted to praying outside next to a dumpster.

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A disturbing sign in workplaces across the country is the rise of discrimination against Muslims. According to data collected by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), complaints of religious discrimination from Muslims in 2010 are 20% higher than in 2009. Although Muslims comprise less than 2% of the U.S. population, they file about 25% of all religious discrimination claims that are filed with the EEOC. This increase in complaints has led the EEOC to file lawsuits on behalf of some Muslims. For instance, it recently sued Abercrombie & Fitch claiming the company refused to hire an 18-year old Muslim girl because she wore a head scarf.

Religious discrimination like this is not only a violation of federal law but also a violation of the Maine Human Rights Act. If you believe you or a co-worker have experienced religious discrimination, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer who can help you determine what you should do about it.