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Encountering Religion in the Workplace

Encountering Religion in the Workplace: The Legal Rights and Responsibilities of Workers and Employers

Raymond F. Gregory
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Encountering Religion in the Workplace
    Book Description:

    In a recent survey, 20 percent of the workers interviewed reported that they had either experienced religious prejudice while at work or knew of a coworker who had been subjected to some form of discriminatory conduct. Indeed, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the filing of religious discrimination charges under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, national origin, sex, and religion) increased 75 percent between 1997 and 2008. The growing desire on the part of some religious groups to openly express their faith while at work has forced their employers and coworkers to reconsider the appropriateness of certain aspects of devotional conduct. Religion in the workplace does not sit well with all workers, and, from the employer's perspective, the presence of religious practice during the workday may be distracting and, at times, divisive. A thin line separates religious self-expression-by employees and employers-from unlawful proselytizing.

    In Encountering Religion in the Workplace, Raymond F. Gregory presents specific cases that cast light on the legal ramifications of mixing religion and work-in the office, on the factory floor, even within religious organizations. Court cases arising under Title VII and the First Amendment must be closely studied, Gregory argues, if we are to fully understand the difficulties that arise for employers and employees alike when they become involved in workplace disputes involving religion, and his book is an ideal resource for anyone hoping to understand this issue.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6074-6
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    The workplace is a community, a place where nearly all Americans spend a great deal of time, where friendships and relationships are initiated and developed, where life challenges are encountered, and where we find opportunities to contribute to society.¹ But the workplace is also a place where some workers pray with other workers and discuss their religious beliefs and practices. Many American workers refuse to conduct their lives in one way on their Sabbath and in an entirely different manner on the other days of the week, and thus they endeavor to integrate their religious and work lives. It should...

  4. Part I. Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

    • 1 Is There a Place for Religion in the Workplace?
      (pp. 9-14)

      Does religion have a place in the American workplace? It is often argued that the presence of religion in the office and other work areas creates conflict and division and that employers and their workers would be far better off if it were barred from the work environs. Unquestionably, religion in the workplace may be disruptive and divisive. But should it be excluded?

      In every era religion has been present in the American workplace. The Social Gospel movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was active in spreading religion beyond the church door to all areas of life,...

    • 2 What Is Religion as Defined by Law?
      (pp. 15-26)

      What is religion? This is not merely a rhetorical question. In a surprising number of cases, courts have been called upon to decide whether particular practices are in fact religious, thus requiring the law’s protection. As an example, Christopher Lee Peterson was a member of the World Church of the Creator. Pursuant to a system of beliefs referred to as “Creativity,” church members were taught that all people of color are “savage” and intent upon mongrelizing the white race, that African Americans are subhuman and should be sent back to Africa, that the Jews control the nation and have been...

    • 3 Religious Discrimination and the Civil Rights Act of 1964
      (pp. 27-41)

      After experiencing adversity in the workplace, a worker who decides to seek legal relief generally frames a legal complaint that falls within the parameters of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

      In 1963 President John F. Kennedy proposed civil rights legislation barring discrimination in places of public accommodation, in voting rights, in the nation’s schools, and in employment, and the following year Congress passed and President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII of the act proscribes discrimination in employment and endeavors to achieve true equality in the American workplace by...

    • 4 Religious Discrimination at Various Stages of the Employment Relationship
      (pp. 42-58)

      A worker who intends to pursue a religious discrimination claim against his or her employer initiates that process by filing a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Once the worker files a charge, EEOC procedures call for the agency to investigate the allegations of discrimination. That investigation typically leads to a determination that (1) reason exists to believe the worker was subjected to discriminatory conduct—a “for cause” finding—or (2) no reason exists to believe the employer engaged in such conduct—a “no cause” finding. A no-cause finding effectively terminates the EEOC’s involvement in the charge....

    • 5 Religious Discrimination Claims Arising Out of the Termination of Employment
      (pp. 59-69)

      As reflected in the cases analyzed in previous chapters, the courts often reject Title VII religious discrimination claims alleged by workers, deciding a majority of those cases in favor of employers. The most often-cited reason for this occurrence is the failure of the complaining worker to provide the court with persuasive evidence demonstrating the presence of a discriminatory intent on the part of the employer in advancing decisions that disadvantage the worker. Evidence establishing the employer’s intent to discriminate is frequently unavailable, since employers, rather than broadcasting their religious prejudices, ordinarily undertake all available measures to conceal them. The quantum...

    • 6 Employee Proselytization
      (pp. 70-80)

      Most people tend to keep their religious beliefs to themselves, refraining from open discussions of a matter they consider wholly private. Other are less inhibited and at times freely engage in open discussions of religious beliefs and practices. Still others feel obligated to express their deeply held religious beliefs to those with whom they come in contact during the day’s normal course. This is especially the case with evangelical Christians, who are dedicated to the concept of conversion of one’s neighbor and are frequently cited as those more likely to engage their coworkers in religious discussion.¹

      Title VII of the...

    • 7 Employer Proselytization
      (pp. 81-90)

      An employer’s proselytization of its employees may constitute a particularly egregious violation of Title VII because workers who find themselves in those circumstances are more likely to endure repeated violations of their rights rather than risk losing their jobs by reacting negatively to efforts to convert them. Similarly, a job applicant made aware of the religious beliefs and practices of an employer may decide to ignore its proselytization endeavors, hoping thereby to gain employment.

      An employer’s proselytization efforts may be directed at a single employee, a small group of employees, or its entire staff. The larger the group, the greater...

    • 8 Employer Liability for Employee Acts of Religious Harassment
      (pp. 91-98)

      Title VII requires employers to maintain a discrimination-free work environment, a nonhostile environment free of acts of harassment, whether racial, national origin, sexual, or religious. Religious discrimination claims charging an employer with creating and maintaining a hostile work environment are closely allied to claims charging it with acts of harassment. The two types of claims go hand in glove, and both frequently appear in employee proselytization cases. A worker subjected to a coworker’s unwelcome attempts at proselytization may call upon the employer to order the coworker to cease all such activities, and if the employer fails to act, the worker...

    • 9 Workplace Discrimination and Certain Religious Groups
      (pp. 99-114)

      A recent survey disclosed that nearly every religious group in the country has experienced some form of religious bias in the workplace. For example, 77 percent of the Muslim workers responding to the survey reported they were concerned or troubled about the presence of religious bias in their workplaces. Sixty-seven percent of Jewish workers, 56 percent of Buddhist workers, and 70 percent of Christian workers had similar concerns. Seventeen percent of Muslim respondents disclosed that they had personally been subjected to acts of religious bias on the job, while the percentage of the other groups who had experienced workplace religious...

  5. Part II. Religion and the Public-Sector Workplace

    • 10 Religion in the Public-Sector Workplace
      (pp. 117-129)

      Federal, state, and municipal employees are afforded constitutional protections not generally available to employees working in the private sector. The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Although framed as a limitation on the authority of the federal government, the Fourteenth Amendment makes the limitation applicable to state governmental agencies as well. The purpose of the establishment and free exercise clauses is to prevent the intrusion of the church or the state into the jurisdiction or domain of the other. The justification for the separation between church...

    • 11 Proselytizing in the Public-Sector Workplace
      (pp. 130-138)

      Public-sector employers may curtail employee discussions of religious subjects if discourse of that nature disrupts the workplace, interferes with normal work procedures, negatively affects employee productivity, or creates circumstances that may give rise to an establishment clause violation. Employer intervention in the attempts by one or more employees to convert coworkers or proselytize customers or clients has become more frequent as members of fundamentalist, evangelical, and other religious groups have become more emboldened in their efforts to persuade coworkers and others to accept their religious beliefs and practices. Conflict may arise between employer and employee when the employee asserts that...

  6. Part III. Exemptions to Discrimination Laws

    • 12 Exemptions from the Discrimination Laws Granted to Religious Organizations
      (pp. 141-158)

      First Amendment principles do not allow the federal courts to exercise jurisdiction over the internal affairs of religious organizations, especially over issues pertaining to church governance and matters of faith and doctrine. Since the selection of members of the clergy is central to the internal governance of the church, the courts must refrain from becoming involved or “entangled” in legal disputes emanating from church decisions regarding its personnel who exercise ministerial or pastoral functions.

      When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted, Congress exempted religious organizations from much of Title VII’s prohibition against employment discrimination on the basis of...

    • 13 The Ministerial Exception
      (pp. 159-169)

      The cases reviewed in the previous chapter as well as those examined in this one disclose sharp clashes between interests of the highest order—the interest of government to eradicate discrimination from the workplace versus the right of the church to manage its own affairs without governmental interference. In these cases the free exercise clause comes into play when the government encroaches upon the church’s management of its internal affairs because a religious organization possesses the right to decide for itself, free of governmental interference, matters of church governance. In that regard, the right to select members of the clergy...

    • 14 Questionable Applications of the Ministerial Exception
      (pp. 170-180)

      The New York Times article was headlined “Where Faith Abides, Employees Have Few Rights.” The article began with the story of a nun, a member of a Catholic religious order in Toledo, who was dismissed from her order after being diagnosed with breast cancer. The nun subsequently sued the religious order, claiming that it had violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) when it dismissed her solely because of her physical condition. Her lawsuit did not long survive because the court ruled that the ministerial exception required the judiciary to remove itself from the case.¹ The nun lost her home...

  7. Part IV. Accommodating Worker Religious Practices

    • 15 General Principles of Accommodation
      (pp. 183-194)

      Reference has been made throughout this work to the employer’s duty to reasonably accommodate the religious observances and practices of its employees. We now examine what that precisely means.

      As enacted in 1964, Title VII failed to specifically provide for accommodation, but in the EEOC’s first promulgated guidelines, employers were directed to accommodate the “reasonable religious needs” of their employees “where such accommodation can be made without serious inconvenience to the conduct of [their] business.” One year later, the EEOC revised its guidelines to provide that accommodation is required whenever it “can be made without undue hardship on the conduct...

    • 16 Accommodation in Practice
      (pp. 195-204)

      Having established the general principles of accommodation, we now examine the day-to-day application of those principles by the courts. That has not been an easy matter for our judges.

      Truck driver David Virts worked for Consolidated Freightways at its facility in Nashville. Consolidated’s dispatchers assigned truck runs in accordance with the seniority provisions of the company’s collective bargaining agreement with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Virts had been working for Consolidated for nearly ten years when one evening, upon arriving at the truck terminal to begin an overnight run, he discovered that the dispatcher had assigned a woman as his...

    • 17 Accommodation in Out-of-the-Ordinary Circumstances
      (pp. 205-212)

      Over the years, as workers have placed greater reliance on the rights and protections established by Title VII, employers have grown much more aware of their legal responsibilities to accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of their employees, and as a consequence, the circumstances in which accommodation arises as an issue have greatly expanded.

      Kimberly Cloutier had been working in the deli department at Costco’s West Springfield, Massachusetts, store for several months when Costco revised its dress code to prohibit food handlers from wearing jewelry. Cloutier, averse to surrendering her right to wear jewelry, requested a transfer to a position...

  8. Part V. Retaliation and Other Issues

    • 18 Religious Discrimination and Retaliation
      (pp. 215-229)

      The reactions of employers to charges of employment discrimination—whether religious, race, sex, national origin, age, or disability—do not differ greatly from their reactions to allegations of fraud or criminal activity. Employers are all too prone to strike back at any worker who even utters the words “discrimination.” Once a supervisor or company official is accused of committing discriminatory acts, he may make life extremely difficult for his accuser. The victim of discrimination then also becomes a victim of retaliation.

      The law provides protection from acts of employer retaliation when workers are engaged in exercising the rights granted them...

    • 19 Some Additional Issues
      (pp. 230-240)

      It remains for us to examine certain miscellaneous issues that commonly appear in cases involving the religious rights and responsibilities of employers and employees.

      An employer cannot be held liable for violating a worker’s religious beliefs if it is unaware that the worker holds such beliefs. A worker who challenges an employment decision adverse to his interests must demonstrate that the decision was made by someone in the employ of the defendant employer who had knowledge of the worker’s religious beliefs.

      Steven Lubetsky applied for a correspondence analyst position with Applied Card Systems with operations in Florida. He interviewed with...

    • 20 Religion and the Law in the Workplace of the Future
      (pp. 241-246)

      Five million Muslims and an equal number of Jews now live in the United States along with 157 million members of various Christian denominations. If tomorrow morning a small portion of those adherents of the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faiths were to arrive at their places of work with the intention of converting fellow employees to their religious beliefs, the American workplace would be overwhelmed by the chaos that would ensue.

      It appears certain that great numbers of workers will continue to insist upon practicing their religion in America’s twenty-first-century workplace. As in the past, employers and their workers will...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 247-254)
  10. List of Cases Discussed in the Book
    (pp. 255-260)
  11. Index
    (pp. 261-266)