Remedies for Religious Discrimination

There are two types of religious discrimination. The first is treating an employee differently because of his or her religious beliefs and the second is failing to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs.

U.S. law forbids any type of discrimination when it comes to employment. This includes hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.

Religious Discrimination at Work

Employees are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits employers who have no less than 15 employees, including employment agencies and unions, from discriminating in employment based on the following protected classes:

  • sex,
  • religion,
  • race,
  • national origin,
  • color.

It also disallows any retaliation against an employee who complains about discrimination or is part of an EEOC investigation. When it comes to religion, Title VII prohibits:

  • treating job applicants or employees differently due to their religious beliefs or practices – or lack of – in any part of the employment process such as recruiting, hiring, assigning tasks, discipline, promotion, and the provision of benefits.
  • employees being harassed due to their religious beliefs or practices – or lack of – or because of the religious practices or beliefs of people with whom they have a relationship with like friends, relatives etc.
  • denying any request to reasonably accommodate an applicant or employee who follows certain religious beliefs or practices – or lack of – if an accommodation will not impose more than a minimal cost or burden on business operations;
  • using retaliation to get back at an applicant or employee who has voluntarily taken part in a protected activity such as filing an EEO charge or has testified as a witness in somebody else’s EEO matter, or has filed a complaint to a human resources (HR) department about alleged religious discrimination.

If you have been a victim of religious discrimination in relation to employment you should inform HR about the discrimination before you take the matter of discrimination any further.

You should also ensure you review your company handbook before filing a complaint with your HR.

Remedies Available

If you have been able to provide the evidence of your religious discrimination and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EOC) has agreed that you have an eligible claim there are some remedies available to you which are listed below.

  • Reinstatement which means you get your job back if you have been fired, compelled hiring, or compelled promotion.
  • Back pay is a common remedy for a wage violation when an employer is ordered to make up the difference between what the employee was paid and the amount he or she should have been paid.
  • Front pay, which is the remedy used to compensate a victim in a situation where reinstatement or nondiscriminatory placement could be a possible remedy, but is denied for reasons related specifically to the individual claim.
  • Retroactive seniority and benefits are awarded to employees after they have suffered discrimination. 
  • Compensatory damages as a remedy based on a percentage of lost wages due to the act of discrimination and an amount calculated for pain and suffering due to the act of discrimination.
  • Punitive damages are available if an employer deliberately and knowingly discriminates against an employee due to a specific feature like religious beliefs and religious attire. If it is a government employer these sorts of damages are not available as a remedy.
  • Attorneys’ fees are typically paid if the case goes to court.

If the company does not handle your complaint of religious discrimination to your satisfaction, the next step is to file a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

A Charge of Discrimination is a statement signed by you accusing an employer, union or labor organization of engaging in religious discrimination in employment.

It is a request for the EEOC to take action. There are several ways of filing a Charge of Discrimination. If you choose to send a letter by mail you should include the following information:

  • your name, address, email, and telephone number;
  • the name, address and contact details of the employer (or employment agency or union) you wish to file the charge against;
  • the number of employees employed at the workplace, 15 is the minimum for a Charge of Discrimination;
  • a short description of the religious discrimination;
  • when the discrimination took place;
  • why you think you were discriminated against which, in this case, will be something to do with your religion;
  • your signature.

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Do not delay as there is a time limit for filing a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC. This will depend on where the religious discrimination took place.

The 180-calendar-day filing is extended to 300- calendar days if a state or local agency enforces a state or local law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis.

Additional Resources