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Discrimination based on religion in the workplace David L. Cullen | Fair Employment and Housing Counsel California Department of Fair Employment & Housing www.dfeh.ca.gov Harsimran Kaur | Legal Director | Sikh Coalition www.SikhCoalition.org. Overview. Introduction.

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Discriminationbased on religionin the workplaceDavid L. Cullen | Fair Employment and Housing CounselCalifornia Department of Fair Employment & Housingwww.dfeh.ca.govHarsimran Kaur | Legal Director | Sikh Coalitionwww.SikhCoalition.org


  • Introduction.

  • Basic protections under the FEHA and related laws.

  • AB 1964 FEHA religious discrimination amendments effective January 1, 2013.

  • Exemptions, defenses and limits to liability.

  • Case law and hypothetical examples.

  • Best practices.

Basic employment protections under the feha

  • Discrimination relating to terms and conditions of employment.

  • Discrimination related to job training, classification or assignment.

  • Interference with other employment opportunities.

  • Harassment.

  • Retaliation.

  • Discriminatory advertising.

Ab 1964 religious discrimination amendments to the feha

  • Effective January 1, 2013, the FEHA is amended to :

    • Clarifies that an employer’s obligation to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs or observances includes accommodating religious dress and grooming practices, as defined; (Gov. Code, §§ 12926, subd., (p) & 12940 subd., (l)(1).)

    • Clarifies that the standard for determining whether a religious accommodation poses an undue hardship is the same standard used for evaluating disability accommodations; (Gov. Code, §§ 12926, subd. (t), 12940, subd. (l).)

    • States expressly that an accommodation is not reasonable if it requires segregation of an employee from customers or the general public. (Gov. Code, § 12940, subd. (l)(2).)

    • Provides that a religious accommodation is not required if it violates the civil rights of another. (Gov. Code, § 12940, subd. (l)(3).)


  • Discrimination by religious organizations or “ministerial exception.” (Gov. Code, § 12962, subd. (d).)

    • Religious corporation.

    • Not organized for private profit.

  • However, hospitals and health care facilities open to the public are subject to the FEHA even if owned by or affiliated with religious entities. (Gov. Code, § 12926.2.)

  • Remedies for religious discrimination
    REMEDIES for religious discrimination

    • Reinstatement.

    • Lost salary or wages.

    • Transfer.

    • Purge of personnel file.

    • Emotional distress.

    • Punitive damages.

    • Court-ordered policy changes and training.

    • Attorneys’ fees and costs

    What is a religion
    What Is A Religion?

    • California FEHA (Cal. Code Regs. , tit. 2, § 7293.1)

      • All traditionally recognized religion and beliefs, observations, or practices sincerely held, which,

        • Occupies in the employee’s life a place of importance parallel to that of traditionally recognized religions.

  • Federal (29 C.F.R. § 1605.1)

    • Moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.

  • What is a religion1
    What is a Religion?

    • Religious belief found not to exist:

      • Veganism

        • Friedman v. Southern Cal. Permanente Medical Group (2002) 102 Cal.App.4th 39.

    • Three Indicia of Religion:

      • Nature of the ideas in question.

      • Comprehensiveness.

      • Formal or external Signs.

    Sincere religious belief
    Sincere Religious Belief

    Religious Group’s Acceptance, 29 C.F.R. § 1605.1.

    What if the religious group does not accept belief espoused by individual?

    • Answer: Irrelevant.

      Thomas v. Review Bd. of Indiana Employment Sec. Division, (1981) 450 U.S. 707, 715-716.

    Employer must know about the religious connection to the request
    Employer Must Know About THE Religious CONNECTION TO THE REQUEST

    • Employee’s work attire she described as Rastafarian found not to be obviously religious.

    • Employer cannot fix what it doesn’t know about!

    • The employee is required to tell the employer that a work requirement is violating her religious beliefs.

      McGlothin v. Jackson Mun. Separate Sch. District, (S.D. Miss. 1992) 829 F. Supp. 853, 856-58.

    Religious accommodation
    Religious Accommodation REQUEST

    Employer has an affirmative duty to:

    “Reasonably accommodate” so long as doing so does not result in “undue hardship” to the employer. (42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j).)

    Employer must provide reasonable accommodation unless so doing would result in an undue hardship. (Gov. Code, § 12940, subd. (l).)

    What must be accommodated
    What Must Be Accommodated? REQUEST

    Federal statute:

    All aspects of religious observance, practice, as well as beliefs. (42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j).)

    California statute:

    All aspects of religious belief, observance, and practice. (Gov. Code, § 12926, subdivisions (o) & (p).)

    including religious dress and grooming practices. “Religious dress practice” shall be construed broadly to include the wearing or carrying of religious clothing, head or face coverings, jewelry, artifacts, and any other item that is part of the observance by an individual of his or her religious creed. “Religious grooming practice” shall be construed broadly to include all forms of head, facial, and body hair that are part of the observance by an individual of his or her religious creed.

    Observance of a Sabbath or other religious holy days and reasonable time needed for associated travel. (Gov. Code, § 12940, subd. (l).)

    What must be accommodated1
    What Must Be Accommodated? REQUEST

    Only “sincerely held” religious beliefs and practices.

    All forms and aspects of religion, however unconventional, are protected.

    Frazee v. Illinois Dept. of Employment Security (1989) 489 U.S. 829, 834.

    What is a sincere religious belief belief can grow change over time

    Beliefs are sincere where the employee had:

    • Religious belief about the Sabbath that work is prohibited, even though the employee did prior work on the Sabbath.

      Baker v. The Home Depot (2nd Cir. 2006) 445 F.3d 541, 564-47.

    What is a reasonable accommodation
    What Is A Reasonable Accommodation? REQUEST

    Wright v. Runyon (7th Cir.1993) 2 F.3d 214, 217.

    Eliminates conflict between employment requirements and religious practices.

    Caveat: An accommodation is not reasonable if it requires segregation of an employee from customers or the general public. (Gov. Code, § 12940, subd. (l)(2).)

    Ansonia Board of Education v. Philbrook (1986) 479 U.S. 60, 68;

    Neither state or federal law guarantees the employee gets the accommodation of his or her choice.

    What is reasonable accommodation
    What Is Reasonable Accommodation? REQUEST

    California Code of Regulations examples:

    Job restructuring.

    Job reassignment.

    Modification of work practices.

    Allowing time off equal to replaced non-regularly scheduled time worked. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 7293.3, subd. (a).)

    Federal Regulations examples:

    Voluntary substitutes and swaps.

    Flexible scheduling.

    Lateral transfers and change of job assignments. (29 C.F.R. § 1605.2 (d)(1)(i), (ii), (iii).)

    Two part burden shifting test
    Two-Part Burden-Shifting Test REQUEST

    First Part: Prima facie case. (Gov. Code, § 12940, subd. (l).)

    Employee must show:

    (1) Sincerely held religious belief and practice that conflicted with a work duty; and

    (2) Employee informed his/her employer of the belief and conflict; and

    (3) The belief conflicted with an employment requirement; or

    (4) Employer took an adverse action against the Employee because of the conflict.

    California Fair Employment and Housing Com. v. Gemini (2004)122 Cal. App.4th 1004, 1012.

    Two part burden shifting test1
    Two-Part Burden-Shifting Test: REQUEST

    Second Part

    Burden shifts to the employer to show:

    (a) One or more elements of the employee’s prima facie case elements isn’t true; or

    (b) Employer offered a reasonable accommodation; or

    (c) Employer could not accommodate the belief or practice without undue hardship.

    What must an employee do to notify employer of religious beliefs
    What Must An Employee Do To “Notify” Employer Of Religious Beliefs?

    • California Fair Employment and Housing Com. v. Gemini (2004) 122 Cal. App. 4th 1004, 1016.

      • Employee’s notice need only be minimal.

      • Failure to comply with the employer’s notice procedures is no defense.

    • Employer must interact in good faith.

    What is reasonable offer of accommodation
    What Is Reasonable Offer Of Accommodation? Religious Beliefs?

    Anderson v. U.S.F. Logistics (IMC), Inc. (7th Cir. 2001) 274 F.3d 470, 476.

    • Employee allowed to add ‘Have a Blessed Day” on internal correspondence.

    Not Religious Beliefs? a Reasonable Offer of Accommodation

    Baker v. the Home Depot (2nd Cir. 2006) 445 F.3d 541.

    • Employer who still requires employee to work on afternoon or evenings on Sundays to allow the employee to attend church where the employee observes the Sabbath the entire day.

    What is an undue hardship
    What Is An Undue Hardship? Religious Beliefs?

    Federal Law:

    If accommodation would impose more than a de minimis cost or burden, it is an undue hardship.

    Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison(1977) 432 U.S. 63, 84;

    California Law:

    “Undue hardship” means an action requiring significant difficulty or expense.

    (Gov. Code, §§ 12926, subd. (t), 12940, subd. (l).)

    Factors for undue hardship
    Factors for Undue Hardship Religious Beliefs?

    Government Code section 12926, subdivision (t):

    (1) The nature and cost of the accommodation needed.

    (2) The overall financial resources of the facilities involved in the provision of the reasonable accommodations, the number of persons employed at the facility, and the effect on expenses and resources or the impact otherwise of these accommodations upon the operation of the facility.

    (3) The overall financial resources of the covered entity, the overall size of the business of a covered entity with respect to the number of employees, and the number, type, and location of its facilities.

    (4) The type of operations, including the composition, structure, and functions of the workforce of the entity.

    (5) The geographic separateness, administrative, or fiscal relationship of the facility or facilities.

    Violation of the law is an undue hardship
    Violation Of The Law Is An Undue Hardship Religious Beliefs?

    • Baltgalvis v. Newport News Shipbuilding, Inc. (E.D. Va. 2000) 132 F.Supp.2d 414.

      • Employer can terminate or refuse to hire an employee, who refuses to provide a social security number as required by federal law.

    Violation of a collective bargaining agreement is an undue hardship
    Violation Of A Collective Bargaining Agreement Is An Undue Hardship

    Balint v. Carson City (9th Cir. 1999) 180 F.3d 1047, 1053.

    • The duty to accommodate does not require that an employer take steps inconsistent with the otherwise valid collective bargaining agreement.

    • Mere existence of a seniority system does not constitute a complete bar to a reasonable accommodation claim.

    • Seniority system not a defense if reasonable accommodation can be made without impact on the seniority system and with no more than a deminimis cost to the employer.

    Is proselytizing in the workplace an undue hardship
    Is Proselytizing In The Workplace An Undue Hardship? Hardship

    Employer not required to allow an employee to share his faith by:

    • discussing religion with his clients,

    • displaying religious items in his cubicle, or

    • using conference room for prayer meetings.

      Berry v. Department of Social Services (9th Cir. 2006) 447 F.3d 642, 655.

    Is employer required to ignore its appearance guidelines
    Is Employer Required to Ignore Its Appearance Guidelines? Hardship

    • Cloutier v. Costco Wholesale Corp. (1st Cir. 2004) 390 F.3d 126, 132, 136.

      • Employer may prevent a member of the Church of Body Modification from wearing facial piercings.

        EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch, Inc., (N.D.O.K. 2011) 798 F.Supp.2d 1272.

      • Employer discriminated against Muslim woman by denying her request to wear a hijab (headscarf) in sales associate job. Employment cannot rely on speculative testimony about hardship to “look policy” (corporate appearance policy).

        Bhatia v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc. (9th Cir. 1984) 734 F.2d 1382 .

      • Employer not required to permit a Sikh employee to wear a beard where the appearance policy was based on the necessity of wearing a respirator with a gas-tight face seal.

    The elimination standard
    The Elimination Standard Hardship

    • Where the negotiations do not produce a proposal by the employer that would eliminate the religious conflict, the employer must either accept the employee's proposal or demonstrate that it would cause undue hardship were it to do so.

    • EEOC v. Townley Eng'g & Mfg. Co., 859 F.2d 610, 615 (9th Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 489 U.S. 1077 (1989).

    • Opuku-Boateng v. State of Cal., 95 F.3d 1461, 1467 (9th Cir. 1996) [emphasis added].

    Hypothetical 1
    HYPOTHETICAL 1 Hardship

    • An employee ate cat food at work everyday and the employer sought to stop this behavior. The employee claimed employment discrimination based on his “personal religious creed” that certain brand of cat food was contributing significantly to his state of well-being and therefore to his overall work performance as eating the Kozy Kitten cat food increased his energy.

    • Did the employer violate religious discrimination provisions under federal and/or state law?

    • Brown v. Pena (D.C.Fla. 1977) 441 F.Supp. 1382.

    Hypothetical 2
    HYPOTHETICAL 2 Hardship

    • A teacher worked for a Lutheran Church school. Her job included teaching secular subjects as well as a religious class, leading students in daily prayer and devotional exercises, and taking her students to weekly chapel services. The teacher developed narcolepsy and the school offered her severance pay for her resignation. She refused and was fired for insubordination.

    • Did the employer violate religious discrimination provisions under federal and/or state law?

      Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. E.E.O.C. (2012) 132 S.Ct. 694.

    Hypothetical 3
    HYPOTHETICAL 3 Hardship

    • East Indian co-workers continuously taunted a Pakistani employee for being a Muslim terrorist. They refused to work with him on projects and sent an e-mail inviting all staff to the employee’s birthday party. When the guests and the employee arrived, the co-workers falsely claimed that the employee was celebrating the anniversary of 9/11. The employee reported the incidents to his supervisor, who did nothing to stop the conduct.

    • Did the employer violate religious harassment provisions under the FEHA?

    • Under current law , would it be illegal for an employer to segregate any Muslim employee to a different area in order to protect him or her from being taunted by co-workers?

      Rehmani v. Superior Court (2012) 204 Cal.App.4th 945

    Hypothetical 4
    HYPOTHETICAL 4 Hardship

    • A quality assurance manager who supervised an openly gay employee told the employee that the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin and that her relationship with a woman was the cause of the turmoil and unhappiness in her life. The two prayed together and the employee said this had caused her to be born again. The manager said that sometimes there is a higher calling than a company policy. However, the employer terminated the manager from her supervisor position for harassing the employee over her sexual orientation. The manager claimed she was discriminated against because of her Christian beliefs.

    • Did the employer violate the religious discrimination provision of federal and/or state law?

      Bodett v. CoxCom, Inc. (9th Cir. 2004) 366 F.3d 736

    Hypothetical 5
    Hypothetical 5 Hardship

    • A Sikh nurse wears a small, sheathed kirpan strapped to her body out of sight underneath her shirt. The kirpan is a Sikh article of faith that is a sword/small dagger. (Initiated Sikhs are mandated to wear five articles of faith on or as part of their person; the kirpan is one of these articles of faith. These articles of faith serve to commit Sikhs to their spiritual beliefs. For example the kirpan, solemnly obligates a Sikh to promote justice for all people, including the oppressed and needy.) The rehabilitation center the nurse works at has a “no weapons” policy. The Sikh nurse requests a religious accommodation to wear her kirpan to work. Her employer denies her request and fires her.

    • Did the employer violate state/federal employment discrimination law?

    • EEOC v. Health Care & Retirement Corporation of America, Case No. 07-cv-13670

    • (E.D. M.I., So. Div., consent decree filed 12/18/09).

    Best practices
    Best Practices Hardship

    • Suggestions for employers to protect against and prevent claims of religious discrimination:

      • Common sense.

      • Non-discrimination company policy.

      • Training.

      • Document all attempts to interact or accommodate.

      • Investigate in a timely fashion.

      • Consider offering a severance agreement.

    Summary and conclusion
    Summary and Conclusion Hardship

    • Dress and appearance issues should be routinely accommodated, unless they raise significant health or safety issues.

    • Workers should not be laterally transferred away from the general public due to their religious displays/appearance.

    • Scheduling accommodations should be routinely accommodated, unless the cost of doing so becomes a “significant difficulty or expense.”

    Thank you
    Thank you Hardship

    [email protected](800) 884-1684Videophone (916) 226-5285