Lawyers dedicated to protecting victims of religious discrimination

City, state, and federal laws prohibit employers from treating job applicants or employees unfavorably because of their religious beliefs or for being an atheist. The law covers not only individuals who have traditional faiths such as Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism, but also those who have other religious, moral, or ethical beliefs including those that simply do not believe in God or some form of a creator.

Religious discrimination is not limited to situations in which the victim is the individual who holds the protected belief. It can also occur when an employee is treated differently on account of the beliefs of a related individual (such as a spouse or friend), or because of his or her affiliation with a religious organization.

If you’ve been a victim of religious discrimination which is one type of employment discrimination, contact the Akin Law Group today. Together, we can build a case that will hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions and allow you to continue your employment in a dignified manner, free from religious persecution.

What the law prohibits

Employers are barred from religious discrimination in any aspect of employment, such as hiring, firing, benefits, pay, job assignments, layoffs, promotions, training, and any other terms or conditions of employment. If an employer discovers that supervisors or coworkers are harassing a fellow employee for religious reasons, it must act to put an end to the discriminatory behavior. If it fails to do so, it may be held financially accountable for its employees’ actions.

It is illegal for an employer to harass or discriminate against an employee for his or her:

  • Affiliation: Employers cannot harass or discriminate against an individual because he or she is affiliated with a particular religious or ethnic group or for the worker’s non-affiliation with a religious group. By way of a few Examples:
    • harassing an individual worker because she is a born-again Christian;
    • paying certain employees less because they attend services at a different church;
    • telling an atheist employee “believe in God or you will burn in hell”
    • telling someone Jewish, “you must be good with money” – even though this appears to be a complement, it is stereotyping and it is illegal
    • asking a Muslim worker, “where is your camel?” or “are you a terrorist?”
  • Physical or cultural traits and clothing: Employers are prohibited from discriminating against an employee because of physical, cultural, or linguistic characteristics. These qualities may include an accent or clothing associated with a particular religion, ethnicity, or country of origin. By way of a few examples:
    • harassing a woman wearing a hijab (head-scarf worn by some Muslim woman)
    • refusing to hire a man with a dark complexion and an accent believed to be Arabic
    • asking a Jewish man to remove his yarmulke (kippah) at work
    • asking a Christian woman, why she is not wearing a cross
    • asking a person at a job interview, whether he believes in God
  • Perception: It is illegal to harass or discriminate against a worker because of the perception or belief that the individual is a member of a particular racial, ethnic, or religious group. This is illegal whether or not that perception is correct. By way of a few examples:
    • refusing to hire a Hispanic person because the hiring official believed that he was from Pakistan
    • harassing a Sikh man wearing a turban because the harasser thought he was Muslim
    • promoting a Christian man believing that the woman that deserved the promotion is an atheist although she is actually a Christian
    • retaliating against a Jewish employee after engaging him in a debate about Christianity
  • Association: Employers are also barred from harassing or discriminating against an individual because his or her association with a person or organization of a particular religion or ethnicity. By way of a few examples:
    • ridiculing an employee whose husband is from the “Bible belt,”
    • refusing to promote an employee who is friends with known atheist
    • refusing to hire a woman who is driven to the interview by another woman wearing ahijab (head-scarf worn by some Muslim woman)
    • demoting or terminating an employee after discovering that he does not attend Church

Employers should adopt policies that guard against unlawful workplace discrimination associated with religion or religious beliefs or non-beliefs. Unfortunately, not only do employers fail to enact such non-discriminatory policies, they actively discriminate and retaliate against employees that stand-up for their religious beliefs. Some go even further by retaliating against other employees that stand up for their co-worker’s right to have a work environment free from religious persecution. If you believe that your rights to a secure workplace have been violated, or that you have been exposed to a hostile work environment because of your religious views or beliefs, contact the Akin Law Group for a FREE Consultation and speak to an employment lawyer that can advise you as to your rights.

Types of unlawful activity

Religious discrimination can emerge in many different forms. The most common types of religious discrimination or retaliation is as follows:

  • Refusal to hire: a hiring manager decides not to hire you because of your religious beliefs, religious-association, membership or clothing.
  • Harassment: your supervisor constantly ridicules you for your beliefs, demeaning your religion and telling you that you should believe in the same religion that he believes in.
  • Offensive language: you are subjected to offensive language because of your religion.
  • Segregation: you are assigned to a position in the backroom because your employer believes that your religious affiliation will alienate you from customers.
  • Refusal to promote: you are an excellent worker, but are consistently passed over for promotion in favor of less-experienced individuals who are not members of your religion.
  • Unequal pay: you are paid less than other individuals with the same duties because of your religious beliefs
  • Failure to accommodate: your employer refuses to reasonably accommodate your beliefs.
  • Retaliation: your employer terminates your employment or demotes you because you told him that he is discriminating against you in violation of the law and that he should stop.

Although the law does not protect employees from offhand comments, simple teasing, or isolated incidents that are not of a serious nature, the New York City Administrative Code affords workers protection broader than Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Executive Law of the State of New York. Even though the Administrative Code does not prescribe a “general civility code” for the workplace, it is still intended to prevent adverse employment actions and hostile work environments where a single act may qualify as discrimination leaving the issue of severity to calculate damages.

Most often, employees have difficulty providing direct evidence of religious discrimination since most employers avoid taking blatantly illegal actions.  Even in these types of cases, the employee is not without recourse. An employee can base his or her case on circumstantial and contextual evidence. Because of this, it is important that you have a clear and accurate record of events and try to preserve e-mails and text messages that may prove the discrimination to which you were subjected. If you believe you have experienced religious discrimination, write down your recollection of the events immediately and send a copy of the e-mails you provide to your employer to your personal e-mail account (employers may delete your e-mail account once you are terminated or if they sense that your contemplating legal action). A detailed and accurate record of events, records, e-mails and text messages may improve your chances of displaying the truth for a successful outcome.

Employers are required to make  reasonable accommodations

The law requires employers to reasonably accommodate workers’ religious beliefs, unless they can prove that doing so would constitute an undue hardship on the business. Some examples of religious accommodations are flexible scheduling, job reassignments, exemptions to workplace dress code, and allowing employees to swap shifts. An accommodation may cause undue hardship if it is expensive, compromises employees’ safety, decreases workplace efficiency, or infringes upon the rights of other workers.

If you go to court and establish that your employer did not accommodate your religious beliefs, your employer must prove that accommodation would inflict an unreasonable burden on the business. If it cannot do so, you may be entitled to damages such as front pay, back pay, lost wages, and reinstatement to your former position in addition to punitive damages and attorneys fees.

Dress and grooming policies

An employer must reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious dress or grooming practices unless it can prove that the accommodation causes undue hardship. Some examples of religious dress or grooming are Muslim hijabs, Jewish yarmulkes, Sikh uncut hair, and Rastafarian dreadlocks. The employer must also accommodate religious prohibitions on wearing certain articles of clothing, such as miniskirts.

Employees who need employers to accommodate their religious dress or grooming practices should notify their employer about the situation. Once the employer is aware that the employee needs the accommodation for religious reasons, it can only refuse the request if it poses an undue hardship.

Retaliation is illegal

Victims of discrimination are often reluctant to speak up about the illegal treatment they have received. They may believe that they will incur the wrath of their employer by way of retaliatory acts. However, employers are strictly prohibited from retaliating against employees who report religious discrimination in the workplace. The court will closely scrutinize the employer’s behavior after the employee files a complaint (formal or informal). Employers that are found guilty of retaliation often have to pay significantly higher damages in the form of punitive damages.

Schedule a free initial consultation at an established New York City law firm

The Constitution guarantees all Americans the right to worship how, when, and if we please. Not all employers respect this right, but that does not mean that employees cannot fight back when they are mistreated on account of their religion. If you feel that you have suffered discrimination because of your religious beliefs or moral views, contact the Akin Law Group at (212)825-1400 to schedule a FREE CONSULTATION. Our lawyers have the knowledge, ability, and experience to make your case as successful as possible.