Freedom of religion is one of our nation's founding principles. This is one of the rights that is guaranteed under the First Amendment to our Constitution, and it has always been widely understood that Americans have the right to practice any religion they choose (or not practice any religion at all) without being harassed, persecuted, or discriminated against.
Since our founding, additional laws have been passed to protect religious freedom in specific circumstances. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or prospective employees because of their religious beliefs. And the Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of religion.
If you have been denied employment, access to housing, or any other protected rights based on your religious beliefs, there are legal options that may be available for you to obtain appropriate relief. Attorney Kira Fonteneau has dedicated her career to fighting civil rights violations based on religion and other protected classes. Kira has many years of experience and extensive knowledge of this area of the law, and she works closely with her clients; taking the time to fully understand their situation and fighting hard to obtain justice on their behalf.
Religious Discrimination in the Workplace
Religious discrimination has been on the rise in the workplace in recent years. Over the past couple decades, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) discrimination cases (based on religion) have increased by around 40%. And as our culture continues to become more ethnically and religiously diverse, this upward trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
Religious discrimination happens in an employment situation when an employee is treated differently because of their religion, their religious beliefs and practices, and/or their request for a reasonable accommodation in order to practice their religion. Individuals can also be victims of religious discrimination when they are treated differently because they do not practice any religion at all.
Discrimination on the basis of religion in the workplace can take many forms, some of the most common include:
The most blatant forms of religious discrimination at work tend to happen when an employer is deciding who to hire, who to promote, and who to terminate/let go. Here are some examples of this type of discrimination:
- Hiring only employees that are members of a certain religion (unless the organization has an exemption because they are religious in nature);
- Promoting an employee because he/she has the same religious beliefs as the owner/manager/supervisor;
- Refusing to hire employees because they are members of a certain religion;
- Denying an employee a promotion because of their religious beliefs;
- Segregating employees who are members of a certain religion to limit their customer interaction because of the way they dress.
These are all examples of “disparate treatment”, or not treating an employee (or prospective employee) equally because of their religion.
Failure to Accommodate
Some employees need to take certain actions to practice their religion. For example, some religions dictate how a person dresses, how they wear their hair, what they eat, when they need to pray, what days they should gather to worship, and much more. These are areas where there are often going to be conflicting interests between employees and employers.
Employers are required to provide accommodations for employees to practice their religion as long as these accommodations would not result in an undue hardship on the organization. These are known as “reasonable accommodations.”
Examples of reasonable accommodations may include:
- Allowing more flexible work schedules in order for employees to practice their religion;
- Giving employees certain days off for religious observances;
- Making reasonable modifications to job assignments;
- Making reasonable exceptions to dress and grooming requirements;
- Allowing employees to use company facilities during the workday for religious observances (such as prayer).
Unfortunately, some employers do not provide reasonable accommodations (for religious purposes) after an employee requests them. And some may go the opposite direction by implementing policies that discriminate against a certain religion. One example would be not allowing employees to put on headwear, even though it does not affect their ability to do their jobs. This type of discrimination is known as “disparate impact.”
Another common form of religious discrimination in the workplace is creating a hostile or dangerous work environment for employees of particular faiths or allowing this type of environment to foster and thrive. A hostile or dangerous work environment would be one in which employees with certain religious beliefs are subject to harassment by other employees and management.
Harassment can come in the form of abusive language, threats, insults, intimidation, mocking, ridicule, and many similar behaviors directed at an employee because of their religion. In order to constitute religious discrimination, however, the harassment must be severe and pervasive. Therefore, simple disagreements between employees about religious beliefs or related matters would probably not meet the definition of harassment under the law.
Religious Discrimination in Housing
The cost of housing has risen exponentially in recent years and finding a suitable place to live can be a major challenge. This problem is made worse when those who are trying to obtain housing are discriminated against. Religious discrimination is one of the practices that is prohibited by the Fair Housing Act, and it is becoming more of a problem in recent years.
Landlords and others who are connected to the housing industry are not allowed to treat individuals who are seeking housing differently because are members of a certain religion, or because they do not practice any religion at all. For example, landlords cannot rent out apartments only to people of their own faith or treat applicants of other faiths differently (such as charging a higher rent or larger damage deposit).
When you are applying for housing, those you deal with are not allowed to ask you any questions about your religion. For example, they are not allowed to ask questions like, “what church do you go to?” or make statements like, “people with no religious faith have no morals.”
It is important to note that the Fair Housing Act does not apply to all housing. There are a few circumstances in which a landlord would be allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion. These are:
- Buildings that are owner-occupied and have four or less units;
- Single-family homes in which the landlord resides and rents out a room in the home;
- Buildings that are operated by a religious organization.
Contact a Skilled and Knowledgeable Alabama Religious Discrimination Attorney
If you believe you have been a victim of religious discrimination, there are legal remedies that may be available to you. These may include back pay, hiring, reinstatement, promotion, compensatory damages, punitive damages, legal fees, and other forms of relief that are designed to make you “whole”. The best place to start is to speak with an experienced discrimination lawyer to discuss your case and legal options.
If you are in Alabama, contact attorney Kira Fonteneau at 205-564-9005 or message us online to schedule a free consultation and case assessment.