Online Sidebar: Religious Discrimination Cases Provide Employers with Costly Lessons

December 1, 2013

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Recent religious discrimination cases provide valuable lessons to employers about how to respond when employees ask for time off or some other accommodation related to their faith. HR professionals would do well to learn from others’ mistakes.

Here are some recent cases that provide guidance:

  • Senior Living Properties LLC, which owns 35 senior assisted living facilities in Texas, in March 2013 agreed to pay $42,500 to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit for firing a dietary services manager who wanted to continue taking Sundays off to observe her Christian faith as she had done for three years.
  • A North Carolina Taco Bell operator paid $95,000 in 2012 to settle religious discrimination charges by the EEOC for firing a worker, a practicing Nazirite, who said his religion forbade him from cutting his long hair.
  • A Texas Burger King franchise owner was sued by the EEOC in late 2012 for firing a cashier on her first day of work because her Christian Pentecostal beliefs required her to wear a skirt.
  • Voss Electric Co. in Lincoln, Neb., in 2012 paid $82,500 to settle an EEOC suit for refusing to hire a qualified applicant because of his religious beliefs. During his interview, the applicant was asked what church he attended, where and when he was “saved,” and whether he would come to work early to attend a Bible study.
  • Belk Inc., a department store chain, paid $55,000 in 2011 to settle an EEOC case after an employee was fired for refusing to don a Santa hat and apron. Her religion, Jehovah’s Witnesses, prohibits her from recognizing holidays.
  • Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc. settled an EEOC case for $150,000 for firing a server for failing to cover up his wrist tattoos, which were related to his Kemetic religion, an ancient Egyptian faith. The tattoos included a verse from an Egyptian scripture.
  • Heartland Sweeteners in Indiana was wrong to deny an employee’s request for several weeks’ leave to attend his father’s funeral ceremony in Nigeria because he didn’t mention the word “religion,” the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July. As the oldest son, the worker was required to be involved in the burial ceremony and additional rites, including an animal sacrifice. The court ruled that the employer should have recognized the request as religious from the words “funeral ceremony” and “funeral rite” and the mention of animal sacrifice.

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