Religious Discrimination

California Employment Lawyers

The freedom to practice one’s religion in the United States is such an inalienable right that it is part of the Constitution’s First Amendment. America has a long history of exercising its faith freely as a safe haven for individuals.

Anyone can experience religious discrimination, but Muslim and Jewish employees are particularly vulnerable. California and federal laws prohibit discrimination based on religion in the workplace. Your employer must adapt to your religious practices as long as they do not create an unreasonable burden. Failure to do so may justify a discriminatory legal claim.

Religious discrimination can take many forms, such as:

  • Failure to accommodate religious practices that do not create an unreasonable burden such as daily prayer or observance of religious holidays
  • Forbidding clothing, hairstyles or other expressions of religious belief
  • Making derogatory comments about an employee because of his or her religion
  • Termination of an employee for taking time to practice religion when the employee has followed proper procedures for requesting leave
  • Scheduling shifts or training that conflict with your religious practices

Accommodating Religious Practices

Title IV of the Equal Opportunity Employment Act also states that an employer must provide reasonable accommodation for the religious beliefs of a person, provided that it does not create an undue hardship for the employer or co-workers.

Examples of appropriate accommodation cited by the EEOC would be to allow time off for religious holidays that are different from those of the majority, or to respect certain styles of clothing or grooming associated with religious beliefs, such as wearing a hijab by a Muslim woman, a yarmulke, by a Jewish man, dreadlocks by a Rastafarian, or an uncut beard and hair by a Sikh.

It is not a reasonable accommodation to separate the person from public contact. Allowing any employee to be subjected to ongoing slurs or degrading the religious beliefs of the employee may create a hostile working environment that could expose the company to a complaint and lawsuit for discrimination or harassment.

Overview of California’s Religious Discrimination Laws

Under California State law, discriminating against an employee on the basis of his or her religious beliefs is illegal for an employer. Employers are actually required to provide reasonable accommodation to employees so long as the employee does not cause “undue” hardship to the employer to practice their religion.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits employers of five or more individuals from discriminating or harassing an applicant or employee on the grounds of religious belief.

Under FEHA, unlawful discrimination includes actions based on an employer’s perception that an applicant or employee has a religious creed, or on the applicant or employee’s association with another person who has or is perceived to have a religious creed. See CA Gov. Code Sec. 12900 et seq.

Under California’s Workplace Religious Freedom Act, religious dress and religious clothing are also included within the definition of “religious belief” and “religious observance.” Additionally, “religious creed,” “religion,” “religious observance,” and “religious belief” include all aspects of religious belief, observance, and practice.

How to File a Discrimination Claim in California

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the California Civil Rights Department enforce anti-discrimination claims.

You must first file your discrimination claim with one of the two agencies in order to obtain validation to sue (based on the agencies findings, you will receive a letter detailing whether you have the standing to sue your employer in civil court  state or federal).

Depending on the nature of your case, it may be in your best interest to file your claim with the EEOC in order to later bring an action in federal court alleging that your employer violated a federal law or statute.

Discrimination Attorneys in San Diego | Potter Handy, LLP

If you have faced discrimination on the job because of your religion, call (415) 534-1911 or contact us to schedule a free, confidential consultation. Our attorneys protect the civil rights of workers throughout California.