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Religious Discrimination at Work: Real California Case Examples to Help You Understand Your Rights

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Are you experiencing religious discrimination in the workplace? If you think you have been subjected to illegal religious discrimination by your employer, it's important to know that your employee rights and religious freedom are protected under both California and Federal law - including accommodations for prayer, time off for religious services, and time off for religious holidays.

Both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibit employee discrimination based on religion and requires employers to accommodate the sincere religious beliefs or practices of employees unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the business. Religious discrimination can come in a variety of forms and occurs when an employee or job applicant is subjected to negative treatment by their employer because of his or her religion. These unlawful behaviors range from denial of shifts, denial of raises, denial of promotions, and even wrongful termination.

religious-discrimination-at-work-california-cases-eeoc.jpg

Are you experiencing religious discrimination in the workplace? If you think you have been subjected to illegal religious discrimination by your employer, it's important to know that your employee rights and religious freedom are protected under both California and Federal law - including accommodations for prayer, time off for religious services, and time off for religious holidays.

Both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibit employee discrimination based on religion and requires employers to accommodate the sincere religious beliefs or practices of employees unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the business. Religious discrimination can come in a variety of forms and occurs when an employee or job applicant is subjected to negative treatment by their employer because of his or her religion. These unlawful behaviors range from denial of shifts, denial of raises, denial of promotions, and even wrongful termination.

The following religious discrimination cases from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission newsroom will help you understand your rights in the California workplace.

Religious Discrimination in California: EEOC Case Examples

Abercrombie & Fitch Liable for Religious Discrimination in EEOC Suit, Court Says

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - A federal judge found Abercrombie & Fitch liable for religious discrimination when the clothing giant fired a Muslim employee for wearing her hijab - a religious headscarf.

The EEOC suit, filed in 2011, showed that Umme-Hani Khan began working at the Hillsdale Shopping Center Hollister store (an Abercrombie & Fitch brand) in San Mateo, California in October 2009 as an "impact associate." The Muslim teen conducted most of her work in the stockroom. Khan was first instructed to wear headscarves in Hollister brand colors, and she obliged. But in mid-February 2010, she was informed that her religious headscarves violated Abercrombie's "Look Policy," a company-wide dress code. Khan was then told that she would be taken off the schedule unless she removed her hijab while working at the store. On February 23, Khan was fired for refusing to remove the hijab in which her religious beliefs compelled her to wear.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers noted, "It is undisputed that Khan was terminated 'for non-compliance with the company's Look Policy.' Khan's only violation of the Look Policy was the headscarf." The court dismissed Abercrombie's argument that "its Look Policy goes to the 'very heart of [its] business model' and thus any requested accommodation to deviate from the Look Policy threatens the company's success, " observing that "Abercrombie only offers unsubstantiated opinion testimony of its own employees to support its claim of undue hardship. The deposition testimony and declarations from Abercrombie witnesses demonstrate their personal beliefs, but are not linked to any credible evidence."

EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo stated, "Ms. Khan willingly color-coordinated her headscarf with the store's brand and capably performed her stockroom duties for four and half months until a visiting manager flagged her hijab as a violation of the company's 'Look Policy.' What undue burden did this retail giant face that prevented it from allowing her to practice her faith? None, clearly."

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EEOC Sues Maita Chevrolet for Religious Discrimination

SACRAMENTO, CA - Maita Chevrolet, an Elk Grove car dealership, violated federal law when its management team failed to accommodate a Seventh-Day Adventist employee. The dealership instead harassed, disciplined, and discharged him because of his religious beliefs.

The EEOC's investigation showed that Nigerian immigrant, Anthony Okon, worked for the car dealership as a salesman from April 2005 to May 2007. A key tenet of Okon's faith is to observe the Sabbath by abstaining from secular work from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Despite frequent requests from Okon and his pastor, Maita Chevrolet persistently scheduled him to work shifts during his religion's Sabbath. The EEOC also charged that Okon was harassed, denied work on Sundays, was disciplined and then discharged for taking leave to observe the Sabbath.

"It is a terrible thing to be asked to choose between practicing your faith and supporting your family," stated Okon, "I was recognized for my customer service and teamwork, and I was willing to work any other time. No matter how I tried to explain my religion, the company told me that they could make no exceptions, and everyone had to be available for work every day."

EEOC San Francisco District Director Michael Baldonado stated, "One of the core tenets of this country is religious freedom. Workers have the right to work in an environment free from hostility, intimidation and ridicule of their religious beliefs."

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ManorCare Health Services Settles Religious Discrimination Suit

SACRAMENTO, CA - Nursing home, Heartland Employment Services, which operated ManorCare Health Services - Citrus Heights, paid $30,000 and agreed to provide training to all its employees to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit. The EEOC had charged that ManorCare violated federal law when it refused to allow a Sikh employee to wear a small kirpan (ceremonial dagger or sword) while working at its nursing home facility.

Baljit Bhandal wears the kirpan as a symbol of her faith as a baptized Sikh. ManorCare told Bhandal that wearing her kirpan during working hours violated the company policy against "weapons" in the workplace, even after receiving literature explaining that a kirpan is not a weapon. Because Bhandal did not choose to comply with her employer's request, she lost her job.

"The kirpan is a very important part of Sikh beliefs," stated Bhandal, who was 41 at the time she was employed at ManorCare's Citrus Heights facility as a dietary aide. "We wear the kirpan all the time, even while sleeping and bathing. I tried very hard to explain this to my employer. To remove it in order to keep my job was not something I could do. I hope that the result of my case will help more people understand Sikhism is a peaceful religion, and that the kirpan represents my commitment to be moral and upright."

EEOC San Francisco District Office Director Michael Baldonado stated, "Our investigation found that Ms. Bhandal's kirpan was six inches long and no sharper than the butter knives found in ManorCare's cafeteria. She wore it clasped to a strap, sheathed, underneath her clothing and invisible to others. She should not have been forced to choose between keeping her job and honoring her faith."

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McDonald's Restaurants of California, Inc. Settles EEOC Religious Discrimination Lawsuit

FRESNO, CA - McDonald's Restaurants of California, Inc. will pay $50,000 plus furnish other relief to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit by the EEOC.

The lawsuit charged that a Fresno restaurant formerly owned by McDonald's refused a Muslim employee's request to grow a beard for religious reasons. The employee and crew trainer was later discharged from his position.

The crew trainer received monetary relief, and the two-year consent decree settling the suit provided that McDonald's will reinforce training of its managers and staff, plus redistribute existing policies on religious accommodation and discrimination.

Melissa Barrios, director of the EEOC's Fresno Local Office, stated, "Workers have the right to request an accommodation which would allow them to work while still practicing their religious beliefs. Employers must consider such requests and ensure that no negative actions are taken against workers who exercise this right."

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Supercuts Sued For Religious Discrimination

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - The EEOC filed a lawsuit charging Supercuts hair salon in Pleasant Hill, California with religious discrimination after the business required a stylist work on her Sabbath, and firing her when she refused to violate her religious beliefs.

Stylist and shift manager, Carolyn Sedar, observes Sabbath and does not report to work on Sundays. Sedar started working for Supercuts in 1999 and store managers accommodated her religious beliefs until a new store manager scheduled Sedar on a Sunday shift in November 2008. After several conversations with the store manager, district manager and submitting three written complaints, Supercuts still refused to excuse Sedar from working on Sunday. Supercuts then terminated Sedar after her refusal to work on two consecutive Sundays.

"Working at Supercuts was my second career after retiring from the VA," said Carolyn Sedar. "I enjoyed the camaraderie with my clients and co-workers and I took pride in making people feel good after I gave them a quality haircut. The Bible says that I should not work on Sabbath and I could not violate that tenet even though my beliefs cost me a job that I loved."

"Employers who simply ignore requests for a religious accommodation are violating the law," said EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo. "Many of these requests can be handled easily. For example, Supercuts could have permitted Ms. Sedar to swap shifts with coworkers, as they had done already for almost a decade. Supercuts could not show that excusing Sedar from work on her Sabbath would impose an undue hardship."

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No one should have to choose between a job and staying faithful to a religion. Our California religious discrimination attorneys are here to fight for yourreligious freedom, employee rights, and financial compensation. Contact us today for your free consultation.

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