Religious Discrimination

Religious discrimination is prohibited in the workplace. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) prohibit religious discrimination. The law recognizes two distinct types of religious discrimination: (1) the failure to accommodate religious beliefs and (2) disparate treatment- adversely treating an employee differently due to the employee’s religion.

Reasonable Accommodation – Religious Discrimination

Employers have a responsibility to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs. A failure to accommodate religious discrimination includes within the definition of religion all aspects of religious observance and practice as well as religious belief. A religious belief which is entitled to legal protection cannot merely be a matter of personal preference, but one of deep religious conviction, shared by an organized religious group, and intimately related to daily living. Examples of protected religious beliefs could include the inability to work during the Sabbath for Jewish employees, the inability to work Sundays for many religions, working on certain religious holidays or wearing religious head garb in the workplace.

An employer may attempt to defend a case by demonstrating that the employer is unable to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious observance or practice without undue hardship to the employer’s business. If the employer makes this argument, then the employee is given the opportunity to show that the reason for not accommodating the belief was pretextual (a cover up) and not a real legitimate reason.

To establish what the law calls a prima facie case for a failure to accommodate on the basis of religion, a plaintiff employee must establish three elements: (1) the employee has a bona fide religious belief that conflicts with an employer’s general requirements, (2) the employee informed the employer of the religious belief and the employment related conflict created by the religious belief, and (3) the employee’s religious belief was not accommodated by the employer even though the employer could have reasonably accommodated the request without undue hardship.

It is also illegal for an employer to subject an employee who requests a religious accommodation to an adverse action.

Disparate Treatment – Religious Discrimination

To establish what the law calls a prima facie case of religious discrimination under a disparate treatment theory, the employee plaintiff must establish that: (1) the employee is a member of a protected class (a recognized religion), (2) the employee suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) non-members of the protected class (religion) received more favorable treatment than the employee. After an employee plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the employer must proffer a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment decision. If the employer is able to proffer a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its actions, the employee plaintiff must demonstrate that the proffered reason was merely a pretext (cover up) for unlawful religious discrimination.

We represent employees who have been subjected to religious discrimination when employers fail to accommodate a religious belief or when the employees face adverse employment actions due to their religion. Call Abramson Employment Law at 267-470-4742 or contact us online to discuss your legal options.

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