Best Ohio Religious Discrimination Attorney Answer: Do I have to perform duties at work that conflict with my religious beliefs? Can my employer fire me for refusing to participate in a religious practice? When must an employer accommodate my religious beliefs?
As employment discrimination attorneys have previously blogged about, both federal and Ohio law protect employees from being discriminated against at work because of their religions. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Ohio’s R.C. § 4112.02 each expressly prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of an individual’s religion. (See Religious Discrimination: Can You Post Jobs Only On Church Bulletin?;and Can I Sue A Religious Employer For Discrimination?). These legal protections apply at all stages of the employment process, from hiring to firing. Additionally, unless doing so would create an undue hardship, an employer must attempt to reasonably accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious belief. Examples of reasonable accommodations in the context of religious discrimination can include exceptions to dress and grooming codes, job reassignments, and flexible or modified schedules.
These religious discrimination laws further preclude employers from forcing employees to participate in designated religious activities. (See Top Religion Discrimination Lawyer Reply: Can My Job Force Me To Pray?; and Religious Discrimination: As An Atheist, Do I Have Rights?).
A regular reader of our employment discrimination lawyers blog will remember the case of Samantha Elauf. In 2008, Elauf applied for a position with clothing company Abercrombie & Fitch. During the interview process, an Abercrombie hiring manager informed Elauf that her hijab was in violation of Abercrombie’s “look policy.” Elauf, a Muslim who wears a hijab in accordance with the tenets of her religion, did not inform Abercrombie that her hijab was a manifestation and requirement of her religion. Elauf was not selected for a position with Abercrombie and subsequently brought suit. Abercrombie, preposterously, defended by arguing that it had no idea that Elauf wore the hijab for religious reasons and, thus, did not know that Elauf would need an accommodation to the company’s dress code.
Elauf’s suit wound its way through the federal courts, ending up in front of the Supreme Court, which announced its decision in the matter on June 1, 2015. Siding with Elauf, in an 8-1 decision, the Court held that an aggrieved employee or candidate need only demonstrate that her need for a religious accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision to take an adverse employment action. Importantly, the Court held that an employer need not have actual knowledge of the necessity of the accommodation. Abercrombie’s decision not hire Elauf, based on her hijab’s inconsistency with the company dress code, triggered Title VII protections, irrespective of whether Abercrombie actually understood that Eluaf would need an accommodation or just had an “unsubstantiated suspicion” that she might need an accommodation. Elauf makes clear that if the religious practice of an employee or prospective employee is a motivating factor in an adverse employment decision, the employer is in violation of the law.
Elauf’s holding makes a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit a little hard to stomach. In Nobach v. Woodland Village, the court was tasked with applying Elauf to a pretty straightforward set of facts. Kelsey Nobach was an aide at Woodland Village Nursing Center. Nobach worked for Woodland Village for just over a year, receiving four written reprimands: two for being late, one for making a false accusation against a coworker, and one for stealing nail polish from a resident. In September of 2009, a coworker informed Nobach that a resident at the nursing home wanted someone to read her the Rosary. Nobach informed the coworker that Nobach could not read the resident the Rosary, as it was against Nobach’s religion.
The resident complained to Woodland Village management and five days later Nobach was terminated. The supervisor who fired Nobach informed Nobach that she was being terminated for refusing to read the resident the Rosary and that even if it had not been Nobach’s fifth reprimand, the supervisor would have fired Nobach for the Rosary incident alone. It would certainly appear that Woodland Village had at least an “unsubstantiated suspicion” that Nobach needed an accommodation and that Nobach’s religious beliefs motivated Woodland Village’s decision to terminate Nobach, but the Fifth Circuit found otherwise.
The court determined that Nobach never informed anyone involved in Woodland Village’s decision to terminate her that praying the Rosary was against her religion. The coworker who Nobach spoke to about the Rosary had no supervisory capacity over Nobach and did not relate Nobach’s concerns to management. Nobach, the court found, never raised the Rosary issue as a religious issue, until after she was informed that she was being terminated. According to the court, if Woodland Village had no reason to believe that Nobach’s refusal to read the Rosary was based on religious views, its decision to terminate Nobach could not have been motivated by Nobach’s religion. In finding for Woodland Village, the court determined that Nobach failed to establish that Woodland Village knew, suspected, or reasonably should have known that Nobach’s refusal to read the Rosary was based on her religious beliefs.
An employee refused to read the Rosary and somehow that refusal was not, in and of itself, enough to cause the employer to suspect that the employee may have a religious belief that required accommodation? This result seems absurd to our attorneys and should not discourage employees from refusing to participate in religious activities against her or his beliefs. The moral of this case is that it is best for an employee to make his or her religious objections direct and clear to a boss, manager or supervisor. Doing it in writing, while not necessary, would provide evidence that the complaint or objection was made, particularly where the complaint was submitted by email with a read receipt, fax with a fax confirmation, or even text with a screen shot of the complaint. While our employment discrimination lawyers suspect that most court would have come to a different conclusion, a written objection to participating in a religious activity would have undoubtedly been protected from unlawful retaliation.
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.
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.