Christians are the majority religion in the United States, but in some regions, such as heavily atheist or liberal urban centers, Christians can find themselves in a minority. Reverse discrimination is another potential form of Christian Employment Discrimination. This is when Christians are given preferential treatment in a non-religious workplace environment.
The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution protects Americans against any kind of religious-based difference in treatment by a government employer, whether it is preferential or discriminatory. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids personal characteristic discrimination or treatment by private employers.
What Constitutes an Employment Discrimination Claim?
Religious employment discrimination claims can be filed by individuals regarding single incidents or by groups alleging a pattern of discriminatory treatment.
- Facial Discrimination: A public indisputable incident or pattern of treatment is solid grounds for a claim, but the burden of proof is high. For example, if a company posted a job listing, and specified something like “men only” in the listing, facial discrimination could be alleged and probably proven. Most companies now are aware of these requirements and are careful to avoid practices that would lead to disparate treatment claims.
- Disparate Impact: The burden of proof is lower for disparate impact claims. These claims show that a company’s policies or practices create an environment keeps out or elevates certain groups of people. The Supreme Court has stated that the demographics of a professional workforce should be a statistical mirror of the demographics of the community from which the workers were hired. Failure to meet these hiring standards could be founds for a Disparate Impact claim.
- Harassment: Serious injury is not a requirement for a claim of harassment based on a hostile work environment. A pattern of events that interfered with an employee’s ability to advance, made an employee feel unwelcome, or negatively affect their job performance is sufficient. Conversely, preferential treatment of Christian employees could have similar effects on non-Christian employees.
- Negligence: Employers are legally required to respond to discrimination claims made by employees. Failure to do so could be grounds for a negligent claim.
- Failure to Respond: Employers are required to respond to any complaints of discrimination whether they are discriminatory or preferential. If they do not respond, they may be found negligent, which can be grounds for a discrimination suit.
What Defenses Does an Employer Have?
- Let Go for Cause: The Model Employment Termination Act explains clear guidelines for what constitutes a “good cause” termination. Changing performance standards, poor performance, reorganizing operations, consolidating positions, changing nature of performance, or downsizing the workforce are all valid reasons to terminate an employee’s position. If the employer can prove the termination adhered to the META standards, the discrimination claim cannot be successful.
- Mixed Motive: If an employer can prove that the employee was let go for reasons outlined above, or others as covered by META, the discrimination claim may fail even if there is some proof of preferential or religion-specific treatment. This defense is controversial and may not work in all jurisdictions.
- Accommodations: Employers have a legal obligation to make reasonable accommodations for religious employees. However, they are not required to spend more than a minimal amount of money to do this. Also, if the employer has made accommodations, and can show that the employee alleging discrimination did not take advantage or make use of those accommodations, this could constitute a successful defense against a discrimination claim.
- Neutral Practice: A claim about a certain policy or procedure has to show that the policy was intended to be discriminatory. If a neutral practice had an adverse impact on the plaintiff’s religion, the defendant can assert the policy was created based on job and business necessity rather than discrimination.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Civil lawsuits based on discrimination claims are notoriously lengthy and costly affairs if they go to trial. You will need an employment lawyer experienced in discrimination or preferential treatment claims to present your best possible defense.