Religious Creed Termination

California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA): It is unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire; to discharge or to terminate; to refuse to select or to bar or discharge an employee from a training program leading to employment; or to discriminate against the person in compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment" because of the employee's religious creed. Cal. Gov. Code § 12940(a).

Protection of an employee's religious convictions extends well beyond traditional religions. It includes "all sincere religious beliefs which are based upon a power or being, or upon a faith, to which all else is subordinate or upon which all else is ultimately dependent" United States v. Seeger, (1965) 380 U.S. 163, 177. More specifically, an individual's religious belief is protected if the religious belief is "[a] sincere and meaningful belief which occupies in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by the God of those admittedly qualifying for the exemption comes within the statutory definition." Id.

Under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "religious practices" includes moral or ethical beliefs about what is right and wrong that are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views. 29 CFR §1605.1. Under FEHA, "religious creed" includes the observance of a Sabbath or other religious hold day or days, and reasonable time necessary for travel prior and subsequent to a religious observance. Cal. Gov. Code §§12926(m)

What qualifies as a "religious creed"? A religion qualifies if it:

  • Addresses fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters
  • Is comprehensive in nature, consisting of a belief system as opposed to an isolated teaching; and
  • A religion can be recognized by the presence of certain formal and external signs. Friedman v. Southern Calif. Permanente Med. Group, (2002) 102 C4th 39, 69-70.

Again, however, protection extends to people adhering to non-traditional religions. For instance, atheism is protected. See Young v. Southwestern Sav. & Loan Asso. (5th Cir. 1975) 509 F.2d 140, 143-144.

To bring a claim for wrongful termination based on religious creed, the plaintiff needs to prove that:

  • "the employee has a bona fide religious belief, the practice of which conflicted with an employment duty," (though, the belief does not necessarily have to be long-held)
  • "the employee informs the employer of the belief and conflict," and
  • "the employer threatens [to terminate or proceeds to terminate] the employee because of the employee's inability to fulfill the job requirements." Balint v. Carson City (9th Cir. 1999) 180 F.3d 1047, 1051 n.3.

The employer must then show that he/she was unable to reasonably accommodate the "employee's or prospective employee's religious observance or practice." Balint v. Carson City (9th Cir. 1999) 180 F.3d 1047, 1050 n.2; Cal. Gov. Code §12940(l). It is the employer's statutory duty to attempt to accommodate the employee's religion. In California, this duty covers the religious belief as well as any religious observance. Cal. Gov. Code §12940(l).

Reasonable accommodations could include: schedule changes, shift exchanges, or transfers. Cook v. Lindsay Olive Grovers (9th Cir. 1990) 911 F2d 233, 241. This duty is only excused if the accommodation proposed would be an undue burden. Example: An employee's religious beliefs would require the employer to breach federal law. Sutton v. Providence St. Joseph Med. Ctr. (9th Cir. 1999) 192 F3d 826, 830.

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If you have been terminated from your workplace because of your religious beliefs, contact the leading attorneys dealing with wrongful termination due to religion at Kokozian Law Firm, APC. 323-857-5900. Ask about our free initial consultation.