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Help! My Boss Harasses Me For My Religious Beliefs

On Behalf of | Feb 13, 2019 | Areas of Practice, Employment Discrimination, Religious Discrimination, Retaliation, Wrongful Termination |

Best Ohio Religious Discrimination Attorney Answers: Can I sue if my co-workers harass me about my religion and call me a terrorist because I’m Muslim? My supervisor tells me I cannot wear my Muslim religious attire; what can I do? I was fired today because I’m Jewish; do I need a lawyer?

When someone talks about discrimination it is usually about discrimination based on traits, such as race/color, gender/sex, national origin, and age. These are traits that a person cannot really change about themselves. These traits are also highly visible. For some reason lines often get blurred when it comes to religious discrimination. This is because unlike race, color, national origin, birth gender or age, religion is not necessarily a trait that an individual is born with, and it is trait that may change over a person’s lifetime. However, just because religion is a more fluid trait than race, or color it is considered an essential part of an individual’s identity and is therefore a protected class under both state and federal law.

All employees are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and, in Ohio under R.C. § 4112.02(A). Under Title VII and Ohio laws employees are protected from discrimination, harassment or retaliation against by their employers on the basis of their race/color, religion, gender/sex, national origin, age, or disability. These employment laws make it unlawful for employers to consider one, or more of these protected traits in making decisions regarding hiring, promotion, wrongful discharge, pay, fringe benefits, job training, classification, referral, and other aspects of employment.

In many cases, harassment based on these protected classes becomes so bad that it turns into what the legal world calls a “hostile work environment.” A hostile work environment is one in which there is harassment or discrimination (because of race, gender, national origin, religion, age, or disability) that is so severe and pervasive that it alters the terms and conditions of one’s employment and creates an abusive working environment. To prove that discrimination and harassment is “severe and pervasive,” an employee must show that the work environment is both subjectively hostile (hostile to the employee personally) and objectively hostile (a reasonable person would find the environment hostile). Critically, courts generally review the objective requirement from the perspective of a reasonable person in the employee’s shoes, who knew what the employee knew at the time. Religion is just as protected from discrimination as race, national origin and sex. Unfortunately, this is because religion is just as susceptible to discrimination, and harassment as these other characteristics. Our employment discrimination attorneys have blogged about religious discrimination before. See  Can I Sue My Employer For Not Accommodating My Religious Dress? I Need A Lawyer!Can I Sue if I Was Fired Because Of My Religion? I Need The Best Lawyer Reply!Can I Sue A Religious Employer For Employment Discrimination? I Need A Lawyer!; and Can My Boss Fire Me If She Thinks I’m A Certain Religion But I’m Not? I Need An Employment Lawyer!)

Let’s look at the case of Hugo Lizzagra. Lizzagra is a 44-year-old Muslim man, who worked diligently at his job in the warehouse of Loma Linda University Medical Center in California for over 20 years. For the first ten years of his employment, Lizzagra worked in the hospital without experiencing any harassment. However, in 2012, Lizzagra broke his thumb and his doctor recommended an accommodation to his work duties, around this time Lizzagra converted to Islam.

Despite the fact that he was a hard worker and a good employee who just wanted to do his job in peace, Lizzagra was the victim of religious discrimination and harassment for years at the hands of his his supervisors. According to the lawsuit Lizzagra filed, he was a victim of religious and disability discrimination by Jerry Strode, and Jose Gonzalaz. Jerry and Jose were Lizzagra’s supervisors at the time. Lizzagra claimed he was also harassed by employees in the human resources department.

Strode and Gonzalaz often referred to Lizzagra as a terrorist, and would say to him “Why don’t you quit?” or “You are going to get fired anyway.” His supervisors also told Lizzagra that he was too slow, and even after his injured thumb healed strode and Gonzalaz would harass Lizzagra about being too slow, and would continually tell him to quit. Like any normal employee would Lizzagra filed a complaint with the medical center’s human resources department. Unfortunately, instead of doing their job’s and putting a stop to Strode and Gonzalaz’s harassment of Lizzagra, Loma Linda’s HR department ignored Lizzagra’s complaints and told him “nothing would be done” and that Lizzagra “should just go back to work.” Only when several employees backed up Lizzagra’s claims did the employer get around to firing in 2015.

However, Lizzagra’s nightmare did not end there. In February 2016, Lizzagra was approached by a San Bernardino police officer who asked Lizzagra if he had made terrorist threats against the hospital. As it turned out, one of Lizzagra’s co-workers had called the police and falsely reported that Lizzagra had been making terrorist like comments around the hospital. Even though the deputy determined that Lizzagra was not a threat to the hospital and did not have a criminal record, the hospital placed Lizzagra on administrative leave and eventually terminated Lizzagra in March 2016.

Lizzagra contacted a wrongful termination attorney and sued Loma Linda for religious discrimination. Thankfully this story has a happy ending. Recently, a jury found that Loma Linda indeed violated Title VII and California employment discrimination law and awarded $3.2 million to Lizzagra in lost wages and emotional distress damages.

Lizzagra’s attorney hit the nail right on the head when explaining what had happened to his client saying: “The hospital preyed on the fears about Muslims in the shooting which occurred only a block from the warehouse where Lizzagra worked,” he said. “An official testified at trial that Lizzagra’s religion was considered in deciding whether he should be fired. And that sealed the deal with the jury.”

Here, the employer was required to stop the reported religious harassment of the employee based on his religion but turned a blind eye as to not upset the more numerous prejudice employees. Not only did they not put an end to the hostile work environment by disciplining the harassers, the employer sided with the harassers and got rid of the religious minority. Unfortunately, many employers see this as the most practical and less invasive way to correct a dispute at work – firing one employee instead of firing and needing to replace many employees. Sometimes employers will side with the better producing employee, even though that is the employee doing the unlawful harassment. The employer’s though it is easier to replace a lower level employee than a manager level or high producing employee. At first glance, this may seem easier and cheaper to the employer – but it is unlawful. And, once such a case gets into the hands of a qualified employment discrimination lawyer, it will be neither easier nor cheaper for the employer.

In this case there, was a happy ending because the employee took the best course of action by getting a top employment lawyer. If you feel that you have been discriminated against based on your religion than you need to call the right attorney!

Another important point to consider from this case is that the employment discrimination laws protect every religion – not just minority religions. Lizzagra was Muslim. He could have been Catholic, Hindu, Jewish or Mormon. Title VII, as well as the corresponding Ohio law, do not mention particular religions. Likewise, these laws also do not mention specific races, genders, or national origins (it does mention specific ages – over 40 years old). Some people have dubbed claims against the majority religion, race or gender to be “reverse discrimination” but there is no such term written in the actual laws. Our team of employment lawyers have blogged about this before. (What Is Reverse Discrimination?; National Origin Discrimination Claims Can Be Based On Reverse Discrimination; Can White People Sue For Race Discrimination?; Can Men Win Gender Discrimination Claims?).

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.

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 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. Call our office at 866-797-6040.

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 sue for religious discrimination at work?”, “What should I do if I was fired for reporting religious discrimination?”, “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 employment attorney.