Religious Discrimination

The United States was founded, in part, on the basis of religious freedom, so it is no wonder that both the federal government and the state of New Jersey have imposed such strict rules barring religious discrimination and workplace harassment. Tolerance is the law of the land, and employers have an obligation not only to treat all religions equally, but also to provide reasonable accommodations for their employees’ religious beliefs. Both the Federal Civil Rights Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, or NJLAD, are in place to ensure that employers uphold their legal obligations and to provide protections and remedies for those who are victims of religious discrimination.

The laws regarding religious discrimination apply to all religions, whether they are part of the mainstream or not. Employers are not permitted to treat either job applicants or employees differently based upon their religious beliefs or practices, and are required to provide accommodations such as days or time off for religious observances or wearing articles of clothing in keeping with the dictates of their religion so long as doing so does not present a hardship on the employer or their legitimate business interests.  Religious discrimination can take many forms, including refusing to hire an applicant, demoting or firing an employee, or harassing an employee based upon their beliefs. Religious discrimination can also take the form of taking adverse actions against and applicant or employee based upon the religion that they do not follow.  Employers are also not permitted to make participating or not participating in a religious belief or practice a condition of employment.

Notably, a wrongful termination claim recently heard by the New Jersey Supreme Court poses the question of whether religiously-based employers such as faith-based schools or hospitals can terminate an employee for a perceived violation of their canon. The case involves an unmarried Catholic school teacher who revealed her pregnancy to the school’s principal and was subsequently fired because she’d had premarital sex. The teacher sought damages for violation of her rights under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination’s protection of pregnant employees, noting that the school’s application of their unpublished policy only applied to female employees because male employees could not get pregnant, and therefore their engaging in the same disallowed activity could not be detected. The school has defended its position under what they say is the First Amendment’s “ministerial exception” to anti-discriminatory laws, despite the teacher having no role in religious education. The court’s decision is pending, and could have a significant impact on thousands of New Jersey residents who work for faith-based organizations.

Employers must also provide reasonable accommodations to religious employees who cannot receive vaccinations due to sincerely-held religious beliefs.  Establishing those religious objections can be tricky, but we have assisted hundreds of employees  in establishing and proving those sincerely held religious beliefs and pressuring employers to follow the law.

In addition to being responsible for their own actions, employers also have a duty to make sure that employees are protected from harassment by other employees. When an employee makes a complaint of harassment, unfair treatment or discrimination based upon their religion, it is the employer’s responsibility to take action to remedy the situation. Failure to do so constitutes discrimination on the part of the employer, and when an individual is retaliated against for making a complaint, they have a right to make a complaint to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or the Division of Civil Rights.

Discrimination or harassment on the basis of religion is illegal, and if you believe that it has happened to you then you have clear and unquestioned legal rights to pursue the remedies cited above as well as a civil lawsuit against your employer. We are passionate about fighting for those who have suffered workplace discrimination, and encourage you to contact our office to discuss your situation and learn your rights.

We can help you protect yourself and can help you recover in the event that you have suffered religious discrimination in New Jersey. Many of these cases are handled on a contingent fee basis (no fee unless recovery). Please call or e-mail now for a free initial telephone consultation.

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    Contact Schorr & Associates, the NJ employment lawyers, today for more information.