ACLJ Issues Legal Demand to Military Outfitting Company Engaged in Religious Discrimination – Army and Air Force Contractor Backs Down
This week, the ACLJ is taking on an Army and Air Force contractor that has singled out and targeted one of their employees for keeping a Bible on her desk and reading aloud from her Bible during break time.
For over five months, our client has been working at an Army outfitting company. During her time there, she has kept a Bible on her desk which she would read from during lunch and break time – sometimes answering questions from other employees and/or sharing a message of hope with them. Recently, however, she was approached by her supervisor who told her she must remove her Bible from her desk and would only be allowed to keep it at work in a locker – out of sight of other employees.
Rightfully believing this instruction to be a violation of her rights, our client requested to meet with the human resources department. Unfortunately, in her meeting with human resources, she was not only instructed that she must remove her Bible from her desk, but that she must cease reading her Bible aloud in the breakroom – even though other employees were permitted to engage in a host of personal activities in the breakroom, including reading books aloud, playing potentially offensive movies and music out loud, using offensive language, and sharing inappropriate jokes and stories with employees.
Although our client complied with the restrictions out of fear of losing her job, a few weeks later, she was nonetheless “written up” for discussing her faith with fellow employees during her breaks. Our client insists that if at any point a fellow employee expressed disinterest in talking about faith, she would immediately oblige. In the weeks that followed, our client experienced an increase in negative criticism of her work as well as the removal of her desk where she had previously kept her Bible. Shortly after being written up, our client’s hours of work were also reduced to eliminate her lunch break and break time – an action that has all the hallmarks of retaliation.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any individual in regard to his or her terms or conditions or privileges of employment. This includes “treating employees differently based on their religious beliefs or practices – or lack thereof – in any aspect of employment.” An employer is obligated to reasonably accommodate all aspects of one’s religious observance or practice unless such accommodation would pose an undue hardship to the employer. In fact, a Supreme Court case decided last month (in which we filed) made it clear that such an undue hardship could NOT be other employees’ animus toward religion.
If an employee is allowed to have personal items on their desk, an employer should allow any personal items on the desk, regardless of whether they are religious in nature. Altman v. Minn. Dep't of Corr., 251 F.3d 1199, 1203 (8th Cir. 2001) (finding employees may have been discriminated against where they were disciplined by reading their Bibles at the same time where other employees engaged in insubordinate behavior and were not punished). In the same manner, an employer cannot prohibit an employee from reading religious material in a break area during personal time, especially where other potentially offensive material is permitted. EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 575 U.S. 768, 775 (2015) (finding Title VII does not demand mere neutrality regarding religious practices but rather gives favored treatment to religious practices).
Reprimanding an employee on the basis of their religious activities without a showing of undue hardship constitutes religious discrimination.
Fortunately for our client, upon receiving our demand letter, the military contractor quickly responded and reversed course by providing assurances that our client will now be allowed to keep her Bible with her on her desk and read her Bible aloud during break time.
This was a fantastic victory, but far too often the religious liberty of our men and women in uniform and the civilian contractors who assist and support them is slowly and meticulously chipped away. We must take decisive action to fight back. This is not just a victory for our client: Because she chose to take a stand for what is right, others are now free to do the same.
If you believe your rights are being violated, or if you need information or legal help navigating an issue with your employer relating to your religious beliefs and/or practices, you can find helpful information on our website and/or submit a legal request for help.