Information Letter: Filing a Claim for Religious Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Against a Private or Government Employer - 2004 | American Center for Law and Justice
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If you think you have been the victim of religious discrimination at your place of employment and your employer is either a government employer, or a private entity that is subject to federal employment law, you may file a claim with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You may also be able to file a claim with a similar state agency. This letter provides general information about your rights under federal law and how to file a claim for religious discrimination. For more information about your rights in the workplace, see [link to "Christian Rights in the Workplace" publication].

The religious freedom of public sector and most private sector employees is protected by a federal law called "Title VII," 42 U.S.C. 2000e, et seq. Title VII applies to private employers who have fifteen or more employees on their payroll for at least twenty weeks during a given year. The statute does not limit "employee" to its traditional definitions. See, e.g., Armbruster v. Quinn, 711F.2d 1332, 1342 (6th Cir. 1983) ("employee" includes all who "are susceptible to the kind of unlawful practices that Title VII was intended to remedy"). In addition to Title VII, most states have similar statutory protections in place.

To prove religious discrimination under Title VII, you must show that you: (1) hold a sincere religious belief that conflicts with an employment requirement; (2) have informed the employer about the conflict; and (3) have been discharged, disciplined or subjected to discriminatory treatment for failing to comply with the conflicting employment requirement. Smith v. Pyro Mining, 827 F.2d 1081, 1085 (6th Cir. 1987).

Government employees are also protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution. Public employees do not forfeit their First Amendment rights upon entering the public workplace. Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U.S. 593 (1972); Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois, 497 U.S. 62 (1990). Regarding religious speech or free exercise of religion, the most oft disputed proposition is the employer's claim of "separation of church and state," mistakenly inferred from the Establishment Clause. While government may not establish religion under the First Amendment, "[t]he Establishment Clause does not license government to treat religion and those who teach or practice it, simply by virtue of their status as such, as subversive of American ideals and therefore subject to unique disabilities." McDaniel v. Paty, 435 U.S. 618, 641 (1978) (Brennan, J., concurring).

Please note that any possible employment discrimination claims you may have must be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and/or your state's agency in order to preserve your rights. The EEOC requires that discrimination claims be filed within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act. Your state's agency may have a longer or shorter filing deadline. Located on the EEOC's web page is all the information necessary to determine which federal and state office is the proper place to file, as well as a list of applicable deadlines for individual states. That web address is www.eeoc.gov. Please understand that filing with one agency does not necessarily mean that the claim is automatically filed with the other, or that the deadlines are extended. Therefore, we suggest that any possible claims be timely filed with both agencies.

It is generally not necessary to hire a lawyer to file a complaint with the EEOC, or your state's agency. If your claim proceeds to court, and you need a lawyer in the future, do not hesitate to contact us. Please note that the ACLJ cannot commit to assisting you until our staff counsel have had an opportunity to review your request.

Sincerely,

THE AMERICAN CENTER FOR LAW & JUSTICE

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