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Can My Boss Stop Me From Saying “Merry Christmas” To Clients? Best Lawyer Reply

| Dec 22, 2014 | Firm News |

Top Ohio Religious Discrimination Attorney Answer: Can my manger write me up for telling a customer to “have a blessed day”? I want to sue my employer discrimination at work based on my religion – do I have a claim? What can I do about religious discrimination in the workplace? Where do I find employment discrimination articles by the best Ohio lawyers?

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During the holiday season, you may have had that awkward situation when you go to give seasons greeting to someone you work with, someone you work for, a client, or a business contact. Can you say Merry Christmas? Even if you know that the person is Jewish, do you say happy Chanukah? How do you know if someone celebrates Kwanzaa? Can your employer tell you that you are no longer allowed to say “Merry Christmas” to client? Can your boss tell you to stop even saying “happy holidays,” or “Have a Blessed Day”?

Let’s start with the basics. Ohio’s Unlawful Discriminatory Practice Statute, located at Ohio R.C. § 4112.02, as well as the federal Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, make it illegal for religious discrimination in employment. So, your supervisor or manager cannot allow some employees to say “Merry Christmas” but prohibit others workers from saying “Habari Gani” during Kwanzaa. Likewise, your company cannot allow small Christmas trees on your desk, but prohibit Jewish employees for putting out a Menorah. Office policies and rules should not differ by religion.

Now, what if the boss says that you are not allowed to even state anything to a client or customer that has any religious connotation? Let’s look at Anderson v. U.S.F. Logistics (IMC), Inc. In this case, Elizabeth Anderson worked for U.S.F., and was (and probably still is) a Christian Methodist Episcopal. In expressing her faith, Elizabeth told (and probably still does tell) people, including customers and coworkers to “Have a Blessed Day.” This included Elizabeth ending most, but not all, written correspondence and telephone conversations with her religious expression. This practice continued for quite some time until someone at U.S.F.’s biggest client complained to Elizabeth that her religious well wishing was “unacceptable” and demanded that it stop. In response to this complaint, U.S.F. told Elizabeth to delete this religious phrase from any correspondence sent to this large client. But, Elizabeth did not listen to this directive and sent an e-mail to an employee at the large client in which she ended with her religious well wishing.

How long do I have to sue my employer for religious discrimination? To get the answers that you need about your religious discrimination questions, call Brian Spitz and the Ohio employment law lawyer at The Spitz Law Firm to set up a free initial consultation.

This prompted a complaint to Elizabeth’s immediate supervisor from the large customer. In response to her boss telling her to stop including her “Blessed Day” statement in communication with that client, Elizabeth stated that this phrase was part of her religious practice. Elizabeth offered to not use the phrase with any particular person that her boss indicated was offended. But, when her boss did not respond to this proposed accommodation, Elizabeth continue to use the religious phrase.

Since Elizabeth continued to use the phrase, her manager issued her a written warning, which notified Elizabeth that her continued use of her religious well wishing would result in further discipline, up to and including termination. Additionally, U.S.F. created and circulated a new company policy to its employees that prohibiting “additional religious, personal or political statements” in verbal and written correspondence to any customer or with fellow employees. Essentially, the policy was a “don’t push your religious beliefs on clients or co-workers” policy. However, U.S.F. did accommodate Elizabeth by letter her continue to use her phrase with co-workers.

While Elizabeth refrained from using the phrase for some time, about five to six months later, it appears that Elizabeth decided to poke the bear by sending the large client an e-mail that ended with “‘HAVE A BLESSED DAY’.” The phrase was not only in all caps but also had quotation marks around the phrase. I personally think that the all capitals and surrounding quotation marks somewhat contradict the message of the phrase.

Shortly thereafter, Elizabeth sued for religious discrimination and as part of the lawsuit sought an injunction to permit Elizabeth to use her religious phrase in her communications with U.S.F.’s customers. The first step in this process is for the trial court to decide whether a preliminary injunction should be temporarily be put in place until that case is fully heard. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, the trial court held that she was not likely to succeed on the merits and denied her request for the preliminary injunction. Thereafter, the case was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which agreed with the trial court and held:

The court then denied injunctive relief because it concluded that U.S.F. reasonably accommodated Anderson’s religious practice and therefore Anderson had a less than promising prospect of success on the merits. Anderson challenges the district court’s conclusion about reasonable accommodation.

“A reasonable accommodation of an employee’s religion is one that `eliminates the conflict between employment requirements and religious practices.’” Wright v. Runyon, 2 F.3d 214, 217 (7th Cir.1993) (quoting Ansonia Bd. of Educ. v. Philbrook, 479 U.S. 60, 70, 107 S.Ct. 367, 93 L.Ed.2d 305 (1986)). However, it is well settled that “Title VII … requires only reasonable accommodation, not satisfaction of an employee’s every desire.” Rodriguez v. City of Chicago, 156 F.3d 771, 776 (7th Cir.1998) (internal citations omitted). …

[T]he district court found that her religious practice was accommodated by U.S.F., as required under Title VII. In making this determination, the district court first defined Anderson’s religious practice as the sporadic use of the “Blessed Day” phrase. This definition involves a finding of fact and is not clearly erroneous. See Kiel, 236 F.3d at 815. On the record, there is sufficient evidence to support such a finding. Anderson concedes that she does not use the phrase all the time. Neither has she made a religious commitment to use the phrase on every occasion. Nor is she required by her religion to use the phrase all of the time. Thus, an accommodation that allows her to use the phrase with some people but not with everyone could be a reasonable accommodation. …

In many ways, this case is similar to Wilson v. U.S. West Communications, 58 F.3d 1337 (8th Cir.1995). In Wilson, the plaintiff was terminated by her employer for refusing to cover an anti-abortion button displaying a graphic picture of a fetus. Co-workers found the photograph disturbing and it disrupted the work environment. To address the co-workers’ concerns, U.S. West proposed alternatives to Wilson. She could: (1) wear the button only in her work cubicle, leaving the button in her cubicle when she moved around the office; (2) cover the button while at work; or (3) wear a different button with the same message but without the picture. However, Wilson refused the proposed accommodation and she was terminated. The Wilson court held that U.S. West reasonably accommodated Wilson’s religious practice of wearing the button. The Eighth Circuit reasoned that forcing U.S. West to allow Wilson to wear the uncovered button throughout the office would require U.S. West to allow Wilson to impose her beliefs as she chose. The court found that “U.S. West did not oppose her religious beliefs but rather was concerned with the photograph.” U.S. West’s proposal would allow Wilson to comply with her commitment to wear the button but respected the desire of co-workers not to look at the button.

Here, Anderson’s religious practice did not require her to use the “Blessed Day” phrase with everyone. Further, U.S.F. did not seek to denigrate Anderson’s religious beliefs. … Rather, U.S.F. was concerned about its relationship with its customers, one of whose representatives had objected to the use of the “Blessed Day” phrase. U.S.F.’s accommodation allowed Anderson to comply with her practice of using the “Blessed Day” phrase while respecting the wishes of at least one customer who objected to the use of the phrase. Thus, U.S.F. reasonably accommodated Anderson.

So, what have we learned? First, the one guy at the big client probably has a little bit of Scrooge complex and should not be so easily offended by the word “Blessed.” I truly wonder if this guy complained to his co-workers’ responses to his sneezes.

“Aaaaachoo.”

“God bless you.”

“That is offensive and I am reporting you to HR.”

Could you imagine? But, I digress. So, what did we learn legally? Phrases like “Happy Chanukah” or “Merry Christmas” are probably not required tenants of anyone’s religious beliefs that are included in every conversation. As such, your company can probably restrict your use of religious greetings, but probably cannot force you to give them up altogether. As such, had U.S.F. strictly enforced its new policy without any accommodation, it might have had some problems. What those restrictions can be will likely depend on the particular circumstance of the individual employer and employee as well as the judge and or jury that will hear the case.

Like most things in employment discrimination law, there are very few black and white answers that apply across the board. So, if you feel that you are being discriminated or harassed based on your religion or religious beliefs or that you were wrongfully terminated because of you are Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Hindu or any other religion, the best course of action you can take is to call the right attorney at (216) 291-4744 to schedule a free and confidential consultation. At The Spitz Law Firm, you will meet with a religious discrimination attorney, who will be able to tell you what your legal rights are and the best way to protect them.

Disclaimer:

The materials available at the top of this religious discrimination blog and at this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “How do I …”, “What should I do …,” “Can my boss discriminate against me because I’m (Jewish/Muslim/Mormon/Hindu)?” or “I was fired for my religious beliefs. The answer to “What can I do?”, is to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular religious discrimination or other employment law issue or problem. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.