On-the-Job Discrimination: Religious Discrimination

  1. Small Business Law
  2. On-the-Job Discrimination: Religious Discrimination
racially discriminated, muslim woman getting harassed at work

The events of September 11, 2001, once again brought the issue of religious discrimination, as well as national origin discrimination, to the attention of the public, lawmakers, employers and employees. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, in combination with the Civil Rights Act of 1991, serves to protect the rights of various groups of people from discrimination in the workplace based on membership in a protected category. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 clarified the scope of protection and remedies available to victims of discrimination. On of the categories given attention during these changes was religion. Employers in the United States have a history of discriminating against workers on the basis of religion. The discrimination sometimes occurs in the hiring process but more often results from religious slurs and other forms of harassment which take place in the workplace. Several federal agencies work closely with state governments and employers to prevent discrimination in the workplace. These include the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.


  • Under federal law it is unlawful to discriminate against an employee or potential employee on the basis of religion. That means employers may not discriminate because the employee practices a particular faith or follows a particular creed.
  • The ban on discrimination applies to hiring and firing practices, as well as promotion, pay, job, training or any other term, condition or privilege of employment.
  • Furthermore, one cannot be discriminated against on the basis of association with persons of some religion, whether that association be through marriage, friendship, ethnic organizations or groups, or churches and schools.
  • Employers must also provide reasonable accommodation for the religious practices of their employees unless doing so would create undue hardship on the employer.
  • The scheduling of exams, of required job training, or of other job selection activities in conflict with an employee’s religious needs is prohibited by the law.
  • Furthermore, restrictive dress codes and the refusal to allow observance of the Sabbath or religious holidays is a violation of the law unless it can be proved that not doing so would cause undue hardship.
  • Harassment of employees due to their religion, whether by the employer or by co-workers, is forbidden under federal laws.
  • An employee whose religious beliefs prohibit the payment of union dues cannot be required to pay the dues but may pay an equivalent amount to a charitable organization.


  • Protected Categories are groups of persons with characteristics in common, such as race, sex or nationality, that Congress has decided must be protected from discriminatory practices. Congress generally bases this determination on a history of discrimination.
  • Reasonable Accommodation means an adjustment to a worker’s working conditions or environment to enable her to perform an essential function of her job. To be reasonable the adjustment cannot create an undue hardship for the employer. It may include, but is not limited to:
    • Flexible scheduling
    • Voluntary substitutions or swaps of work times
    • Job reassignments
    • Lateral transfers
  • Undue Hardship
    • Size of the business
    • Financial resources of the company
    • Nature and structure of the operation
  • Harassment includes, but is not limited to:
    • Religious slurs
    • Religious “jokes”
    • Offensive or derogatory comments.
    • Any verbal or physical conduct based on membership in a protected category
    • The rise of the level of harassment, the conduct must create and intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment, or it must interfere with the employee’s work performance
  • Segregation is the practice of physically isolating minority group employees from other employees, prohibiting customer contact with minority employees, or the assignment of minority workers to primarily minority establishments or geographic area.
  • Classification refers to the practice of coding applications for employment on the basis of religion. While this practice is not prohibited under the law, it can be used as evidence against the employer when minorities are excluded from employment or from certain positions.

Filing Requirements and Limitations:

  • Your claim must first be pre-filed with the EEOC within 180 days of the potentially unlawful action or within 300 days of the unlawful action if your state is a referral jurisdiction state. Tennessee is a referral jurisdiction state. The deadline will not be extended because of internal investigation of the incident within the company.
  • A lawsuit must be filed within 90 days of the receipt of a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC.
  • If you believe that you have been discriminated against on the basis of religion, it is best to contact an attorney immediately, who will advise you of your rights and duties under the law.
  • The federal law that governs religious discrimination, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, also know as Title VII, only applies to companies and businesses with 15 or more employees.

Remedies and Damages:

  • Back Pay
    • This is the most common form of relief.
    • It includes the value of wages, salary, and fringe benefits the claimant would have received during the period of discrimination from the date of termination/failure to promote to the date of trial.
    • You have a duty to mitigate these damages by taking reasonable efforts to find comparable employment after you have been terminated.
  • Compensatory Damages
    • Awarded for emotional distress, pain and suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life.
    • Individual claim caps are placed on this type of damages based on the size of the employer.
  • Attorney’s Fees
    • The court may choose to award attorney’s fees to the prevailing, or winning, party.
  • Punitive Damages
    • These types of damages are limited to cases in which the employer’s discrimination is intentional and was done with malice or reckless indifference to the individual’s rights. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for its behavior. Therefore, not every case will merit punitive damages.
    • Claim caps also apply to these awards.
  • Front Pay
    • Designed to compensated the victim for anticipated future losses due to the discrimination when the employer refuses to reinstate the employee or the court determines that reinstatement is not feasible.
  • Injunctive Relief
    • Common examples of injunctive relief include reinstating a terminated employee or ordering the employer to prevent future discrimination.

If you believe you have been a victim of religious discrimination, contact us to get a consultation with one of our attorneys!

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