Most people know it’s against the law to discriminate against employees for any number of many reasons, including religious beliefs. Two federal cases currently being tried in Camden, NJ, may lead to watershed decisions for employees who feel vulnerable to religious harassment and discrimination from their co-workers.
If you or someone you know feels as though they are being discriminated against because of their gender, sexual orientation, nationality and most certainly religion, you have a right to speak out against that behavior. An experienced employment rights lawyer can be your best ally in these types of cases.
In 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recorded 3,549 cases of workplace discrimination on the basis of religion; this is in addition to the thousands who never came forward through fear of losing their job or suffering further unfair retaliation. Many of these cases involved more common forms of discrimination, including refusal to allow employees to wear religious garments on the job and unwillingness to accommodate employees wishing to take off to observe religious holidays.
What makes the two Camden cases unique is the suggested involvement of direct and unabashed proselytizing (attempting to convert someone from one religion, belief or opinion to another). The first case alleges that a former employee of a used car lot in New Jersey was terminated after refusing to pray and read scripture with his co-workers during work hours. The second is a suit filed by a preschool teacher claiming she was fired after voicing concerns over about her co-workers’ proselytizing. Both plaintiffs are filing suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
As of 2014, religious discrimination in New Jersey workplaces was at a five-year high, with 98 individual charges documented in the state by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) last year. Close to three percent of all religious discrimination in workplace cases in the United States were filed in New Jersey. The number of charges has steadily increased from 63 in 2009.
The decisions rendered in the two Camden cases will shed new light on the rights of employees regarding proselytizing, an area on which the exact law is often unclear. Although employers are obligated to investigate all claims of religious harassment, the outcome is often open to the interpretation of management, who are often reluctant to deprive others of their religious freedom. The subsequent issue has been, and continues to be, identifying where one employee’s right to discuss their religion ends and another employee’s right not to discuss religion in the workplace at all begins.
The Camden court has an opportunity to provide some much-needed precedent on the issue of compulsory religious activity of any kind in the workplace, whether it’s actively trying to convert employees or continuing to engage them in religious dialogue despite their repeated objections. One of the main roadblocks associated with this issue is that the lines often get blurred and employees have a hard time identifying what constitutes inappropriate or unlawful activity, no matter how uncomfortable they may feel.
If you feel as though you’re facing discrimination of any kind in the workplace, you need to know your options. Contact the attorneys at Posternock Apell, PC for experienced legal advice to ensure your rights as an employee and an individual are protected.