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How Do I Get A Religious Accommodation At Work? Top Attorney Reply

| Jan 16, 2015 | Employment Discrimination, Religious Discrimination, Wrongful Termination |

Best Ohio Religious Discrimination Attorney Answer: What should I do if I don’t get a job because of my religion? How do I let my boss know about my religious requirement? Was I wrongfully fired if my manager does not like my religious dress?

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Given all the religious hatred that is going on all over the world, our employment discrimination lawyers would not be surprised to see a spike in religious discrimination in the workplace. This is not about favoring one religion over another. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects all religions and truly held religious belief – Judaism, Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, Born Again Christians, Christians, etc.

Both federal and Ohio law prohibit employment discrimination, including refusal to hire a qualified applicant, based on an individual’s religious observance and practice, whatever that religious observance and practice may be. An employer must make allowances to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs, provided that doing so does not impose more than a minimal burden on the employer. Examples of religious accommodations might include not scheduling an observant Jew to work on Saturdays, allowing an observant Catholic time off on Ash Wednesday, or, in many cases, allowing an employee to express her faith by wearing a certain type of clothing required by her religion.

In order for it to be required to provide such an allowance, however, an employer must receive notice that one is needed. What happens, though, if an employee or potential employee clearly requires a religious accommodation but never explicitly asks for one? The United States Supreme Court will soon take up this question (set for oral argument on Wednesday, February 25, 2015).

Do I have a claim for religious discrimination? To find out about your employment law rights call attorney Brian Spitz and the employment discrimination lawyers at The Spitz Law Firm to get a free consultation regarding you potential religious discrimination and wrongful termination claims.

The case concerns a Muslim teenager who applied for a retail sales position with an Abercrombie & Fitch clothing store in Oklahoma. Abercrombie maintains a strict dress code for its sales associates, which prohibits, among other things, wearing headwear of certain colors. The young lady has worn a hijab since she was thirteen and did so on the day she interviewed with Abercrombie. Her interviewer never asked the teen anything about her religion, nor did she volunteer such information. The interviewer did subsequently, however, ask a superior if the teen’s black hijab violated Abercrombie’s “Look Policy” and was told to reject the teen’s application.

Abercrombie has defended its conduct by asserting that, even though the interviewer has admitted that she assumed the teen was a Muslim and that she assumed that the hijab was a part of the teen’s religious observance, this information was never explicitly related to Abercrombie by the teen. The question for the US Supreme Court will be whether an applicant or employee must explicitly request a religious accommodation, or whether the notice requirement is satisfied when the employer has enough information that it should be aware of a potential conflict between its policies and an individual’s religious practices.

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma originally ruled in favor of the employee, but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding:

In summary, we conclude that the district court erred in denying summary judgment to Abercrombie. More specifically, we hold that, under the governing substantive law, Abercrombie is entitled to summary judgement because there is no genuine dispute of material fact regarding this key point: Ms. Elauf never informed Abercrombie prior to its hiring decision that her practice of wearing a hijab was based on her religious beliefs and (because she felt religiously obliged to wear it) that she would need an accommodation for the practice, because of a conflict between it and Abercrombie’s clothing policy. …

Religion-accommodation claims are a subset of the types of religion discrimination claims that an applicant or employee may present under Title VII. See Peterson v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 358 F.3d 599, 603 (9th Cir. 2004) (“A claim for religious discrimination under Title VII can be asserted under several different theories, including disparate treatment and failure to accommodate.”); Chalmers v. Tulon Co., 101 F.3d 1012, 1018 (4th Cir. 1996) (“[A]n employee is not limited to the disparate treatment theory to establish a discrimination claim. An employee can also bring suit based on the theory that the employer discriminated against her by failing to accommodate her religious conduct.”…

The reasonable-accommodation principle is implicated only when there is a conflict between an employee’s religious practice and the employer’s neutral policy; only then does a need to accommodate arise. See id. § 12-IV(A)(1) (noting the need for the employer to be on notice “both of the need for accommodation and that [the accommodation] is being requested due to a conflict between religion and work” (emphasis added)). For there actually to be a conflict, logic dictates that an applicant or employee must consider the religious practice to be an inflexible one—that is, a practice that is required by his or her religious belief system. …

In religion-accommodation cases, we apply a version of McDonnell Douglas’s burden-shifting approach. See Thomas, 225 F.3d at 1155; see also Dixon v. Hallmark Cos., 627 F.3d 849, 855 (11th Cir. 2010). Specifically, to survive summary judgment on such a claim, “the employee initially bears the burden of production with respect to a prima facie case.” Thomas, 225 F.3d at 1155. The prima facie case requires the employee to “show that (1) he or she had a bona fide religious belief that conflicts with an employment requirement; (2) he or she informed his or her employer of this belief; and (3) he or she was fired [or not hired] for failure to comply with the conflicting employment requirement.” Id. (emphasis added); accord Dixon, 627 F.3d at 855. …

We conclude that Abercrombie is entitled to summary judgment because the EEOC cannot establish the second element of its prima facie case. As discussed below, under the controlling law, the EEOC cannot establish this element because there is no genuine dispute of material fact that Ms. Elauf never informed Abercrombie before its hiring decision that her practice of wearing a hijab was based upon her religious beliefs and that she needed an accommodation for that practice, due to a conflict between it and Abercrombie’s clothing policy.

In reaching our conclusion that Abercrombie is entitled to summary judgment, we resolve a question vigorously contested by the parties: specifically, whether, in order to establish a prima facie case under Title VII’s religion accommodation theory, a plaintiff ordinarily must establish that he or she initially informed the employer that the plaintiff adheres to a particular practice for religious reasons and that he or she needs an accommodation for that practice, due to a conflict between the practice and the employer’s neutral work rule. We answer that question in the affirmative. Consequently, because Ms. Elauf did not inform Abercrombie prior to its hiring decision that she engaged in the conflicting practice of wearing a hijab for religious reasons and that she needed an accommodation for it, the EEOC cannot establish its prima facie case.

Given that the Supreme Court took this case on appeal, the court of appeals decision appear to be a shaky ground. While we await the Court’s decision, as a practical matter, an employee or applicant who feels like she may require a religious accommodation is best served by explicitly stating as much to the employer or potential employer.

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 866-797-6040 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.