Articles Posted in Religious Discrimination

Last week, astronomer Dr. C. Martin Gaskell won a religious discrimination settlement of $125,000 against the University of Kentucky, pursuant to claims that the school passed him over for a research position because of his belief in divine creationism – essentially, that God created the universe.

Curiously, the University of Kentucky apparently confused Dr. Gaskell’s view on evolution. As analysts at the website DailyTech.com pointed out, Dr. Gaskell is not strictly a biblical literalist or “intelligent design” proponent. Rather, he is a “theistic evolutionist.” In other words, according to his written views, he apparently believes that a divine being set up the universe with discrete rules and also that the theory of evolution — as is commonly understood by chemists, physicists, and biologists — has serious flaws.

Rather than engage in long litigation, the University of Kentucky agreed to the six figure settlement with Dr. Gaskell. But as the analysis piece at DailyTech.com points out, it may not be too long before courts witness similar religious discrimination lawsuits against other academic institutions. The DailyTech.com article also raises this interesting question: “Can a university pass over a candidate who publicly (and vocally) turns their back on science in the name of religion, in a field unrelated to their work?”

34 year-old Alisa Dolinsky will receive $40,000, pursuant to charges of New York City religious discrimination, according to an article in the Associated Press.

The orthodox Jewish nurse applied to work at Coler-Goldwater Specialty Hospital on Roosevelt Island in 2007. Initially, the hospital offered her the nursing job, but rescinded their offer when Ms. Dolinksy stipulated that she would not work on the Jewish Sabbath (from Friday evening through Saturday evening). Since the hospital operates around the clock, seven days a week, administrators determined that they couldn’t afford to hire Ms. Dolinsky when other applicants might be able to provide more complete coverage. The New York City Commission on Human Rights brokered the settlement, although the hospital did not admit any wrongdoing, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Cases of employment discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, and religious discrimination at work often serve as cannon fodder for employment blogs, pundits, and academics. This case, even in its condensed form, appears pregnant with interesting ethical questions. For instance, how long does a religious Sabbath have to be to constitute a serious inconvenience? If Ms. Dolinsky had been a member of another religion that required her to take off six days a week (and work only one day), common sense would dictate that she would not be an appropriate job applicant for the hospital. Conversely, what if she only had to take off half a day a week? Or a quarter day? Would that constitute a significant enough impediment to her working at the hospital? Where do you draw the line, time-wise?

In a recent ruling out of an employment tribunal in Leicester, England, a doctor lost her religious discrimination case against her employer, the Northamptonshire Council Adoption Panel, after she abstained from voting on a matter she felt violated her religious beliefs.

Northamptonshire County Council’s Adoption Panel was to vote on putting adopted children in homes run by same sex families. Dr. Sheila Mathews, a member of the panel, sought permission to avoid voting. After her request, the panel dismissed her. Dr. Mathews sued the panel for religious discrimination, claiming that her Christian beliefs prevented her from pairing adopted children with same sex couples. According to BBC reports, the ruling tribunal denied her employment discrimination claim. Judge John MacMillan said, “there is simply no factual basis for the claims.” The judgment came after a 2-day hearing in the town of Leicester, during which Dr. Mathews expressed her belief that “Christian professionals, who seek to express professional judgment in the very best interest of children, are being silenced or discriminated against.” With help from the Christian Legal Centre, she has asked the Leicester tribunal to refer her case to the European Court of Justice.

Dr. Mathew’s position touched off heated debate among bloggers who follow employment discrimination, retaliation, and harassment cases.

The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) has filed a religious discrimination suit on behalf of Christopher Woodson, a Rastafarian who allegedly did not get hired as a mover because of his long dreadlocked Rastafarian hair.

According to an AP article, Woodson applied to work for Lawrence Transportation Systems in May 2008. But the company denied him a chance to be a loader because of their “grooming policies.” According to a statement provided by the company’s lawyer, “[Woodson’s] hair was down to the middle of his back, and he was asked to get it cut to about shirt collar length.” The attorney said that, since loaders work closely with customers, the official policy stipulates “that hair, facial hair, beards and general grooming must be neat, clean and trimmed.” Hiring someone who looks like Woodson, in other words, would cause the company “undue hardship” and a loss of business.

The EEOC has counter-argued that Rastafarians “view growing their hair unbridled as a tenet of their religion.” Therefore, the company’s decision not to hire Woodson violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC wants Lawrence Transportation to pay for Woodson’s back pay as well as pay punitive damages and recalibrate its hiring policies.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released a report on 2009 Muslim-American religious employment discrimination complaints: the agency found a disturbing trend. According to the data, in 2009, Muslims filed nearly 1,490 job-related discrimination complaints – marking the fifth consecutive year that this number has increased. Mark Benjamin, a reporter for Salon.com, talked to Arab-American Anti Discrimination Community Director Abed Ayoub about the trend line. Per Ayoub: “I am not the least bit surprised… the data just reaffirms what we see… employment discrimination is a priority issue.”

In the Salon.com article, Benjamin points out that the EEOC’s complaint numbers (from Muslims, regarding employment discrimination) spiked from 2000 to 2002, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. They went from just 557 in 2000 to nearly 1,500 in 2002. But after 2002, the number of complaints dropped precipitously, reaching a low in 2004 of 694.

So what can account for the near doubling in complaints from 2004 to 2009? Some analysts suggest that, perhaps, more victims of religious discrimination, harassment, and retaliation are feeling more comfortable making allegations. Other experts suggest that a wave of recent xenophobic sentiment may be driving the trend. In other words, perhaps de facto religious discrimination is on the rise in American workplaces.

Religious discrimination against Muslim women wearing a traditional headscarf known as the hijab is a perennial problem, according to officials at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which reports that in the first three months of 2010, more than 40 women in separate incidences complained about discrimination as a result of their wearing hijabs.

For instance, a 19-year old named Naseehah Barlaskar claims that she was denied a job at a local McDonald’s in Michigan because she insisted on wearing what her prospective manager called “that thing.” In response to this allegation, a McDonald’s spokesman issued the following statement: “McDonald’s has a strict policy prohibiting any form of discrimination. These allegations are not consistent with our policies.”

In San Francisco, a college student named Hani Khan sued a San Francisco clothing store owned by Abercrombie & Fitch. Khan alleges that her supervisors told her to remove her hijab in order to work at the store. She refused the instructions and was subsequently fired. Abercrombie & Fitch is no stranger to disputes about racial discrimination, gender discrimination, and other employment discrimination. In 2004, A&F had to pay out $50 million to a class of people who brought action via the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has weighed in on touchy, high profile allegations of New York religious employment discrimination related to the case of Debbie Almontaser, a former Principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, an Arabic-language public school.

The case has a complex back story, so put your reading glasses on and settle in:

Ms. Almontaser took over as principal of the dual language academy in 2007. Shortly after she took the helm, however, conservative opponents began to brand her as a militant Islamist. She denied the allegations, and independent sources confirmed her moderate political temperament. Nevertheless, a group called Stop the Madrassa Coalition formed and claimed that she was linked to a campaign to sell shirts bearing the slogan “Intifada NYC” — a reference to a militant Islamic point of view.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday, July 21 that a claim brought by a former Catholic school employee (Wendy Ostlund) for age discrimination was not valid due to the fact that she had worked at a religious institution.

The court overturned the rulings of two lower courts by a razor sharp verdict of 4 to 3. The lower courts sided with Ostlund, who claimed that she had been terminated illegally during a 2002 downsizing.

The claimant’s attorney expressed dismay at the ruling, claiming that the Supreme Court ignored a wealth of precedence that seemed to support the view that religious institutions must abide by fair employment practices for positions that are not ministerial and that are largely secular in nature. A Justice speaking for the Supreme Court’s majority disagreed, pointing to Wisconsin’s Free Exercise and Freedom of Conscious clauses; he suggested that these laws allow certain religious organizations exemption from some employment discrimination claims.

Two prominent Colorado ski resorts, Keystone and Vail, have been ordered to pay $80,000 to a claimant named Lisa Cornwell, pursuant to charges of religious discrimination and sexual harassment at the workplace. Ms. Cornwell, represented by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), had alleged that her supervisor at Keystone had harassed her based both on her religious practices/beliefs and her gender. Her boss, Rick Garcia, did not allow Ms. Cornwell to talk about her religion or listen to religious music at work; at the same time, Mr. Garcia did allow other workers to listen to music that contained profanities and lyrics that degraded women, which made Ms. Cornwell uncomfortable. In addition, the EEOC complaint against the Vail Corporation and Keystone Resort alleged that Ms. Cornwell had to tolerate untoward sexual jokes and had unfairly been denied shift priorities. Furthermore, when Ms. Cornwell contacted the EEOC about the abuse she had been receiving, Mr. Garcia terminated her in retaliation.

The EEOC alleged that the Vail Corporation and Keystone Resort had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, which mandates that employers accommodate the religious beliefs of their workers and which outlaws gender discrimination and retaliation at the workplace. The EEOC had attempted to reach an out of court settlement with Vail, but when negotiations broke down, the EEOC took the matter to trial. The Denver Field Director of the federal agency noted that religious discrimination claims like Ms. Cornwell’s have been increasing over the past decade – up 80% from the late 1990s.

If you have encountered religious discrimination, gender harassment, retaliation, or other unfair workplace conditions, the law firm of Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP may be able to assist you. Peruse our website, or contact us either via email or phone to set up a confidential discussion about your matter.

A Linden, New Jersey oil refinery owned by ConocoPhillips has settled a religious discrimination claim, MyCentralJersey.com reported May 29. The suit was brought by Clarence Taylor, a pipe-fitter at the Bayway Refinery who was forced to work Sundays for two months despite his requests for accommodation. The settlement in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit includes $7,500 and five extra vacation days for Taylor, $12,500 for a food bank Taylor selected and revised anti-discrimination policies and training for the refinery.

Taylor brought the suit after a 2006 schedule change forced him to work on Sundays for two months. He didn’t want to miss church, where he was a deacon and lay leader, so he asked to change his schedule. The company refused and told him he could use his vacation time. He contacted the EEOC, which filed a religious discrimination lawsuit on his behalf. A spokesman for ConocoPhillips said the company disagrees with the EEOC charges, admits no wrongdoing and offered Taylor a reasonable accommodation, but settled the case for business reasons.

Religious discrimination in the workplace is illegal under the Civil Rights Act, the same law that makes it illegal to discriminate according to race, sex and national origin. Among other things, Title VII of the act says employers must reasonably accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious practice, as long as it does not pose an undue hardship to the employer. That includes schedule changes to accommodate attendance at religious services, as long as it doesn’t incur substantial extra costs or push particularly burdensome work onto co-workers.