Religious Harassment

Under FEHA, it is unlawful to harass an employee for adhering to or respecting a certain religious creed. Cal. Gov. Code § 12940(j).

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 holy days, and reasonable time necessary for travel 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 as well. For instance, atheism has been declared protected. See Young v. Southwestern Sav. & Loan Asso. (5th Cir. 1975) 509 F.2d 140, 143-144. Other non-conventional religions would presumably also be covered as long as the belief is sincere and most other beliefs of the individual are subordinate to it.

The test for proving an incident of harassment based on the victim’s religion requires the plaintiff to demonstrate:

  • She was a member of [a particular religion],
  • She was subjected to unwelcome harassment,
  • The harassment was based on her religious creed or observance,
  • The harassment unreasonably interfered with her work performance by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment, and
  • The [employer or entity] was liable for the harassment.” Thompson v. City of Monrovia, (2010) 186 C4th 860, 876 (discussing racial harassment).

Religious harassment is normally a separate cause of action from religious creed discrimination. However, harassment is actionable as “discrimination” whenever it is “so severe or pervasive as to alter the conditions of [the victim’s] employment and create an abusive working environment.” Clark County School Dist. v. Breeden, (2001) 532 US 268, 270. Thus, pervasive harassment regarding one’s religious creed may be enough to bring two separate claims.

Contact Us

If you have experienced religious harassment at your workplace, contact the best religious harassment lawyers in California at Kokozian Law Firm, APC. 323-857-5900. Ask about our free initial consultation.