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Religious Discrimination in Connecticut

Posted by Tamara

Connecticut employers need to be aware of a case in federal court involving religious discrimination. After 9/11 an Islamic woman was fired from Alamo car rental in Phoenix for not removing her headscarf. She argued her scarf had been approved by her boss. In addition, prior to 9/11, the employee had been permitted to wear the scarf that bore the Alamo logo. The case went to court, and the judge ruled that making an exception to the dress code to allow the scarf was a reasonable accommodation and awarded the employee $250,000.

Unfortunately, after the 9/11 tragedy cases of religious discrimination against Muslims in Connecticut and elsewhere rose sharply. Another case involved two county government employees in Pennsylvania. The Islamic men were required by their religion to wear beards, but the county required all male workers to be clean-shaven. When the Islamic workers refused to shave, they were disciplined. The case went to court and the judge ruled in favor of the workers. In this case, making an exception to the dress code constituted a reasonable accommodation.

If, however, the beards had posed a safety hazard to the workers, to their colleagues or to the public, the company would be legally within its rights to forbid them.

Federal law expects employers to make these “reasonable accommodations” for a worker’s sincerely held religious beliefs. These accommodations could include amending the dress code, the worker’s schedule, working conditions or hours. For example, a company could allow a Jewish employee to take off on Rosh Hashanah. If the company operates 24/7, that worker might be required to work on Christmas Day instead. In other organizations, the worker may simply be permitted an additional unpaid day off.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the relevant federal law. Under Title VII, employers cannot discriminate against a worker because of his or her color, race, gender, national origin or religion. The law applies to employees with “sincerely held” beliefs. It does not allow a worker to claim to be Jewish for Yom Kippur and then claim to be Christian in December for Christmas.

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