Freedom of Religion – Part 1

A federal court in Texas ruled that a hospital cook could sue his employer for “religious discrimination” as a result of the employer’s hostile treatment.

Church Law and Tax2002-07-01

Freedom of Religion

Key point 8-08.3. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits covered employers from discriminating against any employee on account of the employee’s religion. Employers are required to "reasonably accommodate" employees’ religious practices, so long as they can do so without undue hardship on the conduct of their business. Many state civil rights laws have a similar provision.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

* A federal court in Texas ruled that a hospital cook could sue his employer for "religious discrimination" as a result of the employer’s hostile treatment following the cook’s religious conversion. A cook ("Ed") was employed by a public hospital. He experienced a religious conversion and "began to speak about his religious beliefs and the good things the Lord had done in his life since his conversion." Ed was later involved in an automobile accident and sustained neck and shoulder injuries that forced him to miss several days of work. He was later terminated as a result of his absences, and he sued his employer for religious discrimination. In particular, Ed claimed that the real reason for his termination was his supervisors’ objection to his new-found faith, and this "religious discrimination" violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He cited several comments made by his supervisors as evidence of their religious discrimination, including the following: (1) After he was injured in the automobile accident, one of his supervisors said, "If you are a man of God why don’t you just ask God to fix your neck?" (2) When he did not prepare food correctly his supervisors would make sarcastic remarks, such as, "You are supposed to be a man of God, why don’t you get God to do it for you or get it for you." (3) A supervisor told him, "Since you said you’ve been saved, I don’t see any difference." (4) A supervisor repeatedly informed him that since he was going to church and believed in God that he should not be calling in sick to work. Ed also introduced evidence showing that other employees who missed more work than he did, but who were not overtly religious, were not terminated. The court rejected the hospital’s motion to dismiss the case, and allowed Ed’s claims to go to a jury on the basis of religious discrimination.

Application. Any employer that has at least 15 employees and that is engaged in interstate commerce is barred by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 from discriminating in any employment decision on the basis of an employee’s religion. According to this court, this includes making offensive remarks about an employee’s faith, and treating an overtly religious employee less favorably than non-religious employees. Abraham v. Diagnostic Center Hospital Corporation, 138 F.Supp.2d 809 (S.D. Tex. 2001).

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