Category: Religious Harassment

Samsung is in hot water for allegedly refusing to hire an applicant because of his religious beliefs. According to reports, the technology company reached out to a 34-year-old Muslim man and invited him to apply for a software technology position. Everything went smoothly until the final in-person interview. During this time, interviewers emphasized “the importance of company culture” and drinking heavily with one’s co-workers.

The Samsung interviewers, noting that the applicant was Muslim, repeatedly asked for specific details about his religious views and practices. They also mentioned that he probably wouldn’t be a good fit for the job because he abstained from drinking because of his religious beliefs. The interview ended when one of the Samsung interviewers stood up and abruptly left the room. The Muslim applicant was notified three days later that he did not get the job.

The applicant consulted with the Council on American-Islamic Relations about his experience. The group subsequently filed a formal employment discrimination complaint against Samsung with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing. This is the first step in filing a lawsuit directly against Samsung for its discriminatory hiring practices.

What is Religous Discrimination?

It’s illegal for employers to discriminate against employees and applicants on the basis of religion. Discrimination broadly refers to the unjust or prejudicial treatment of a person or group of people. Discrimination is unlawful when it is based on a protected characteristic, such as religious belief or preference. Discriminatory behavior can include:

  • Asking probing questions about an applicant’s protected characteristic (e.g., sex, race, religion)
  • Refusing to hire an applicant
  • Refusing to give an employee a promotion or raise
  • Excluding an applicant or employee from a training program
  • Demoting an employee
  • Terminating an employee without cause.

Conduct is only discriminatory if there is no legitimate or reasonable explanation for the adverse action.

What is Religion?

Religious discrimination is prohibited under both federal and state law. The term “religion” is actually defined differently under the different laws.

California State Law: The Fair Employment and Housing Act defines religion to mean “all aspects of religious belief, observance, and practice, including religious dress and grooming practices.” Religion can be used interchangeably with religious creed, religious observance, religious belief, religious grooming practice, and creed.

Federal Law: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commision defines religion to mean “moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.” Religion includes both observances and practices.

Simply put, an employer cannot take adverse action against an applicant or employee because of his or her perceived religion, or lack thereof. That’s right – religious discrimination includes unjust actions that are based on the fact or belief that an employee is not religious.

Can Employers Ever Ask Questions About Religion During a Job Interview?

Employers in California are generally prohibited from asking any questions about certain protected characteristics, including race, age, gender, sex, disability, medical condition, or religion. It’s unlawful to ask an applicant for information that would “disclose” an applicant’s membership in a protected group. Instead, employment and interview questions must be designed to elicit “details essential to determining a person’s qualifications to do the job.” Generally speaking, an applicant’s religious preference or practice has no bearing on his or her ability to perform the necessary job functions.

What if questions are designed to determine an applicant’s availability to do the job? Again, these questions cannot involve an applicant’s religious practice. Questions about availability must be asked “apart from absences for religious observances.” So, employers can’t ask about which holidays an applicant may celebrate or how their religion may affect their work schedule. Employers in California are required to provide certain accommodations, when reasonable, to allow an employee to practice his or her religion.

However, there limited situations in which an employer may ask about an applicant’s religious beliefs. Questions about religion may be permissible if they are designed to determine whether or not the applicant meets a “bona fide occupational qualification.” This qualification must be narrowly tailored and neutral. In other words, the qualification can’t be designed to be discriminatory.

 

Discrimination in the workplace can be clear as day or very subtle. Any form of discrimination, when based on a protected characteristic, is illegal. If you’ve been the victim of discrimination in the workplace, you have the right to file a legal claim. It’s best to consult with an experienced discrimination lawyer to fully understand your rights and options. Contact the San Jose employment discrimination attorneys at the Briski Law Firm to schedule your free consultation.