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.
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:
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.
In general, there are two types of religious harassment:
The short answer is yes. There are two main exceptions to federal and Colorado law regarding religious discrimination:
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:
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.
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.