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Religion & Employment

Friday, November 13, 2015

Churches and Anti-Retaliation Protections

How do anti-retaliation laws apply in the nonprofit sector?

It ought to go without saying that an employer cannot discriminate against his or her employee for merely following the law. However, anti-retaliation laws have been challenged yet again  in Georgia – and this time, it is the nonprofit, tax-exempt sector seeking answers on this pivotal issue.

In a recent lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the petitioner is seeking damages and restitution following an alleged retaliatory decision by Atlanta’s King’s Way Baptist Church, Inc. According to the complaint, the petitioner was fired from her position as a kindergarten teacher within the church’s Christian school after reporting ongoing sexual harassment at the hands of the church’s lead pastor, who also serves as the chief executive officer of the nonprofit corporation.

Allegedly, the pastor engaged in the ongoing practice of inappropriately touching the teacher, followed by veiled threats of adverse treatment if the interactions were reported. When the teacher reported the incidents to the church’s governing board, the board opted to terminate her position rather than investigate the matter further.

In a statement by the EEOC’s Atlanta office, “[w]hen an employer fires an employee for complaining about sexual harassment, it is only compounding its own culpability and setting itself wide open for charges of retaliation….EEOC is stepping in to defend the rights of this discrimination victim not to be victimized even further. No one should be punished for telling the truth to power if that truth is sexual harassment.”

Pursuant to the lawsuit, the EEOC (on behalf of the teacher) is seeking back pay, punitive damages, and an injunction barring the school from engaging in further retaliatory acts against current or future employees. The lawsuit was filed after attempts to negotiate and settle the matter proved futile.

If you are experiencing workplace discrimination or retaliation it is in your best interests to contact a reputable attorney who specializes in such matters


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Former Atlanta Fire Chief Claims Religious Discrimination Led to His Termination

Can I be fired for expressing my religious beliefs at work?

In a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran claims that the city discriminated against him because of his religion. The EEOC complaint could be an indication that Cochran plans to file a federal lawsuit against the city.

In November 2014, Cochran was suspended without pay in connection with a bible study book he wrote; the book contained controversial statements about homosexuality. According to Cochran's EEOC complaint, he was informed by city officials that his publication of the book violated unspecified city policies and that an investigation would be conducted.

When Cochran returned from his suspension, he was allegedly told that every city employee interviewed in the investigation reported that Cochran's faith influenced his leadership style. However, no employee reported specific examples of discrimination or being treated unfairly because of Cochran's religious beliefs.

Mayor Kasim Reed terminated Cochran earlier this month, stating that Cochran's "judgment and management skills were the subject of the inquiry" and that "Cochran's personal religious beliefs are not the issue." One issue raised is that Cochran distributed his book at work. Mayor Reed's decision to fire Cochran was reportedly supported by the Atlanta Professional Firefighters union.

Cochran asserts that he obtained authorization from the City's Ethics Department to publish the book, which expresses his "deeply held religious convictions on many subjects." He is claiming that the city violated his federal civil rights by discriminating against him because of his Christian religion. A rally in support of Cochran was held at the Georgia Capitol earlier this month, apparently organized by evangelical groups and leaders.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against at work, the experienced employment discrimination and civil rights attorneys at Pankey & Horlock, LLC, can advise you. We serve the entire state of Georgia. Contact us today at (770)670-6250 for a free case evaluation.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

As Diversity has Increased, so has Racial Discrimination

The latest annual survey of American Workers and religion by the Tanenbaum Center for Religious Understanding has found that discrimination against Christians, the majority faith in the United States, is becoming increasingly widespread.

The report accompanying the survey implied that business managers have witnessed a rise in religion-related conflicts, including harassment and lack of special religious accommodations as the workforce has become more diverse.

The survey was conducted with more than 2000 adults and found that about a third reported either witnessing or experiencing religious bias.  Roughly another third report some form of failure to make special accommodation such as allowing religious clothing, beards, allowing time off on Sabbath and holidays as well as providing a venue for prayer and meditation.

Nearly half of non-Christian respondents reported witnessing or experiencing managements' failure to make accommodations at work.   A slight majority of all workers stated that Muslims face greater levels of discrimination, not just in comparison to other religious groups, but including gays and lesbians, racial minorities and women.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), since 2001, almost a quarter of all complaints it has investigated involve bias against Muslims, even though they comprise less than 2 percent of the United States population.   Further, discrimination is no longer dominated by issues surrounding dress codes, but has become more personal, in form of name calling and offensive jokes against Muslims.  While this discrimination against Muslims is not systematic in nature, it is prevalent between employees and at times between employees and supervisors.

Almost half of white Evangelical Christians have also suffered discrimination, with respondents finding themselves victims of rumors and gossip in the workplace.   Recent debates about the rights of gay, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals have heightened conflict between such workers and devout Christians who may consider same-sex relations to be sinful.

 If you find yourself in a hostile work environment, because of your religion or any other improper  discrimination, contact our Georgia employment discrimination attorneys today for a consultation. 

 


Saturday, June 1, 2013

Georgia Employment Discrimination Laws and Workers’ Rights

Federal and Georgia laws pertaining to employment discrimination are intended to be fair, intuitive and easy to understand. Yet, often, employers make mistakes when managing issues relating to employees’ illnesses, disabilities and religious rights, and even employees’ gender and race. Employees, too, often fail to understand their full rights when involved in employer/employee disputes regarding possible discrimination. The seriousness and frequency of employment discrimination in Georgia is evidenced by cases described by the American Civil Liberties Union’s website; it discusses recent cases in Georgia involving:

  • Employees’ right to work while living with such diseases as AIDS and epilepsy
  • Muslim employees’ right to wear a religious headscarf while at work
  • Employers’ obligations when a customer makes a racially motivated request
  • Laws protecting whites and males when an employer seeks to increase the diversity of its workforce
  • Employees’ rights to religious conversion
  • Pre-employment credit checks and racial profiling
  • Veterans’ employment rights, including the rights of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Workplace bullying combined with discrimination
  • Employers’ failures to promote individuals with diabetes and other diseases
  • Obesity, age, race- and gender-related activism and numerous other areas and issues

 

What Constitutes Employment Discrimination in Georgia?

If you are an employer or employee in the state of Georgia, it’s important to remain up to date and knowledgeable about your legal rights and obligations. A good start includes an understanding that, in our state, it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of age, religion, disability, race, ethnicity, national origin and gender. Employment discrimination relating to these protected categories usually involves:

  • Firing/termination
  • Promotions, compensation and benefits
  • Hiring practices
  • Work environment
  • Disability leave, maternity leave and retirement options
  • Lay offs

 

In What Instances Is Discrimination Not Discrimination?

It may be helpful to understand discrimination that is perfectly legal. Though it may seem objectionable, employers in Georgia are perfectly within their rights to fire you, deny you a raise or promotion or reduce your pay based on:

  • Your bankruptcy history (though some courts have ruled that, while current employers can discriminate against employees based on bankruptcy, potential employers cannot)
  • Your political views
  • Your appearance
  • Nepotism (meaning favoring someone who is related to someone over someone who is not)
  • Your credit history

 

Overlap between what is legal and what is not is common. For instance, an employer can discriminate against you because you are overweight, but may not be able to legally do so if your weight is linked to a disease. Your employer can discriminate against you because you dress badly, but your employer may be breaking the law if it has a dress code for women but not for men. And while you can be fired for your political views, if your political views are tied to working conditions or another issue involving employment law, your may be protected from discrimination. To be sure of your obligations and rights regarding employment law in Georgia, the best move is to contact an experienced employment law attorney. 


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Employment Discrimination and Religious Employers

Shorter University, a Baptist college located in Rome, Georgia, recently mandated that its 200 employees sign a “personal lifestyle pledge”. The pledge declared that they reject adultery, premarital sex, and homosexuality. The pledge also required that employees abstain from using drugs and participate in local churches.

According to some sources, many faculty members have resigned or are planning to resign as a result of the pledge. Some faculty members took issue with the fact that the pledge singled out some sins but not others, while others claimed that the pledge was approved as a result of a very biased survey. Students are also said to be unhappy about the pledge. Supporters of the pledge claim that the goal was to declare what the college was all about.

So are employers allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion? Yes. Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers with at least 15 employees from discriminating in employment based on religion, there are exceptions. Under Title VII, religious organizations are permitted to give employment preference to members of their own religion. This exception only applies to institutions whose purpose and character are primarily religious. In order to decide whether an entity is religious, courts consider whether it’s working for a religious purpose, whether its day-to-day operations are religious, whether it’s not-for-profit, and whether it’s affiliated with a church or another religious organization.

Therefore, a private employer that is considered religious can discriminate in its hiring and general employment practices. However, there are limits to what a religious employer can do. For example, a religious employer can’t otherwise discriminate in employment on the basis of race, national origin, sex, etc. by claiming that according to its religious beliefs, their employees are not allowed to associate with people of other races.

In general, religious employers have some wiggle room in what types of employment discrimination they can engage in, although there are limits. The actions taken by Shorter University are most likely legal, although they may end up ultimately having a detrimental effect on the faculty and student populations.


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