By Eric B. Meyer
It’s not that often that you come across a case where an employee alleges a hostile work environment based on religion. Sex? Sure. Race? Yep. But religion? Not so much.
Yet, when your employees are faced with the choice “My religion or my job,” it’s time to call the lawyers.
An overtly religious work environment
Here are the facts from this federal court opinion (in Garcimonde-Fisher v. 203 Marketing):
- The office was decorated with Judeo-Christian artwork and biblical posters.
- Materials with evangelical messages and solicitations for donations to overtly evangelical charities were distributed to employees.
- The break room had a TV that looped Christian movies all day long.
- Evangelical charities were invited to give presentations employees were required to attend and allowed to solicit donations from employees.
- The employer kept an evangelical chaplain on staff.
- Mandatory prayer meetings and religious events were scheduled during work hours.
- Privileges were given to employees who chose to attend and the company owner kept track of those who chose not to participate.
- Even work meetings were begun with prayer.
- At the company Christmas party, HR gave a sermon about the battle against evil, abortion, and homosexuals.
- At another Christmas party, the company owner opened the event introducing the new COO as someone who is a good Christian and aligns with my faith and belief
- At the same party, the employees were given gifts, a book about family, a book about abortion and a “Horton Hears a Who” DVD
- At a “family fun day,” employees were required to attend a 20 minute religious service in a chapel and sit through an additional 30 minute religious presentation by Compassion International, an evangelical charity, in which the organization also solicited donations
“Such a workplace may be considered hostile”
Sounds preachy to me, but a hostile work environment? Well, according to the court, yeah, maybe so:
Hostile work environment claims prevent employers from creating conditions that are inhospitable to any but those who share their beliefs. … When the teachings and practices of an employer’s religious sect saturate a workplace such that an employee is constantly bombarded with those teachings such a workplace may be considered hostile. Such profusion may effectively alter the terms of employment in a way that disadvantages the religious outsider who is thus faced with the choice “My religion or my job?” Title VII forbids employers from forcing employees to make this choice whether overtly or covertly.”
The plaintiff produced evidence where the company referred to the King James Bible as the proper Bible and to Catholicism as not the “right kind” of Christianity.
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But the icing on the cake was the addition evidence that the company owner said as much — if you don’t like my religion, you can quit.
Or, I suppose, you can sue too.
This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.