Colorado Religious Discrimination Attorney

Per the Pledge of Allegiance, we are “one nation under God”, but which God is that? Different religions have different beliefs when it comes to the nature of God, as well as different rituals and customs surrounding those beliefs. Under the law, no single belief system is “right”. Instead, all religious beliefs, as well as their practices and observations, are protected by law as a matter of right.

Imagine then, being harassed, passed over for promotion or terminated because of your religious beliefs. Imagine having to miss or forego a service, a ritual or a behavior that is at the heart of your faith because your employer refuses to make an accommodation for your beliefs. No one should ever have to choose between worshiping the God they believe in and making a living. This thought is at the heart of religious discrimination laws.

What Is Religious Discrimination?

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Colorado Revised Statutes § 24-34-402, religious discrimination involves treating job applicants or employees less favorably because of their religious beliefs. Per federal and Colorado law, instances of religious discrimination include:

  • Treating applicants and employees differently because of their religious belief, or the lack of their religious beliefs, in any aspect of employment, including recruitment, hiring, assignments, discipline, promotion, and benefits;
  • Harassing employees because of their religious beliefs or practices, or the lack thereof, or because of the religious practices or beliefs of the people they associate with;
  • Denying an employee’s reasonable request for an accommodation of a sincerely held religious belief or practice, if that accommodation imposes no more than a minor impact on business operations;
  • Retaliating against an employee who has filed a religious discrimination claim or participated in an investigation into religious discrimination.

It should be noted that the term “religion” is interpreted very broadly under the religious discrimination statutes. The law, of course, covers major religious faiths such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc. It also covers obscure religions that may be new, have few followers or have beliefs that seem odd or strange to outside non-practitioners. In fact, religious discrimination protection is extended to people who may experience disparate treatment on the job because they hold no religious beliefs.

Religious practices are interpreted similarly. The question of whether a particular practice is religious is viewed subjectively and depends on an employee’s individual motivations. For example, two employees may both display prominent scarification. However, one of the employees does so as a social choice and the other does so for religious reasons. Therefore, one employee is protected by religious discrimination law and the other is not.

Finally, it should be noted that the scope of what constitutes religious discrimination is broad. For example, an employer cannot deny an applicant a job based on the applicant’s religion and, at the same time, cannot prefer one applicant over another based on religion. This also applies to printed or electronic material, such as job ads.

What Constitutes Religious Harassment?

In general, there are two types of religious harassment:

  • Quid Pro Quo Harassment – Quid pro quo is Latin for “this for that”. Quid pro quo religious harassment occurs when an employee is required to abandon or alter a religious belief as a condition of employment. A negative employment action that occurs as a result of an employee refusing to abandon or alter a belief is also quid pro quo harassment.
  • Hostile Work Environment – A hostile work environment occurs when an employee is subjected to comments and actions that are so severe and pervasive that the employee reasonably perceives his or her work environment as hostile or abusive. Petty or minor incidents are not usually considered harassment. An employer is responsible for the harassing behavior of any employee or, under certain circumstances, a non-employee like a customer or supplier as long as certain conditions are met. These include:
    • Whether the employer has knowledge of the behavior;
    • Whether the victim suffered a negative employment action;
    • Whether the victim reported the behavior to the employer; and
    • What steps the employer took to prevent the behavior from continuing.

Are There Exceptions To Religious Discrimination?

The short answer is yes. There are two main exceptions to federal and Colorado law regarding religious discrimination:

  • Religious Organization Exception – Under the law, religious organizations are allowed to give hiring preference to members of their own religion. In determining if an organization is entitled to take advantage of this exception, attention is focused on:
    • Whether it is supported by a church or already recognized religious organization;
    • Whether it is incorporated as a not-for-profit; and
    • Whether it’s day-to-day activities are primarily religious in nature.
  • Ministerial Exception – In interpreting the various anti-discrimination statutes, courts have generally held that clergy members cannot bring discrimination claims. The rationale for these decisions is grounded in the First Amendment. The idea is that government interference in a religion’s administrative actions, including the hiring and firing of clergy, prevents the free exercise of religion and represents an impermissible crossing of the line between church and state.

Actions To Take When Religious Discrimination Occurs

If you are being subjected to religious discrimination in the workplace, you need to  act proactively, not only to end the discrimination but also to protect your interests should a lawsuit become necessary. These actions include:

  • Report each incident of discrimination to your employer;
  • Document every incident and every report of an incident that your make; and
  • Consult with an experienced Colorado religious discrimination attorney.

If the employer does not mitigate the effects of the discrimination, a Claim of Discrimination  must be filed with either the EEOC or the Colorado Civil Rights Division (CCRD) in order to preserve your right to proceed against your employer in court. In addition, the Claim of Discrimination must be filed within very specific time frames – 300 days from the discriminatory act for the EEOC and 180 days from the discriminatory act for the CCRD. A failure to file a Claim of Discrimination within these time frames will result in a loss of the right to pursue a religious discrimination claim under Title VII or Colorado law.

Available Remedies For Religious Discrimination

The goal of federal and Colorado anti-discrimination law is to put the victim of the discrimination in the same position they would have been had the discrimination not occurred. Because of this, a victim of religious discrimination may be awarded compensatory damages which may include the value of lost wages and benefits, damages for emotional distress and, where applicable, punitive damages. It should be noted that all compensatory and punitive damages can be capped depending on the size of the employer’s business. A victim can also be awarded attorney fees and the costs associated with litigating the religious discrimination case. The court can also order an employer to reinstate an employee who was terminated or issue an injunction that prohibits the employer from committing future acts of religious discrimination.

Employment discrimination law is complex and employers will often make every effort to fight discrimination charges made against them. At Marathon Law, LLC, we use our knowledge of employment discrimination law and our experience in handling employment discrimination cases to get the results that our clients deserve. Contact us for a free, confidential consultation at 303-704-1222, or via our website contact page.