Ask the Lawyer, Prayer at Work?
PRAYER MEETINGS AT WORK? NOT A GOOD IDEA
QUESTION: I work at a small design firm. About six months ago, the project manager began ending our meetings with a short prayer, which has expanded into a fairly lengthy prayer, asking for God’s blessing on our work, and ending with an invocation to Jesus Christ. I do not believe in this kind of Christianity, and told the manager that it makes me very uncomfortable. Since then, she has cut me out of the communications loop several times (emails sent to everyone but me) and written me up for missing events and deadlines I was never informed of. Before this started, I was hoping for a promotion, but someone else got that spot and now I’m worried I’ll lose my job. Should I have kept my mouth shut?
ANSWER: No one should be forced to practice a certain religion, or discriminated in employment because they decline to do so. A business that allows its managers to end or begin a business meeting with prayer is asking for trouble, even if the prayer itself is well-intended, and participation is labeled as “voluntary.” (Note, a different rule applies if the organization is religious, and adherence to is beliefs is a bona fide occupational qualification).
Discrimination in employment on the basis of religion is against federal and state law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, respectively), and, in the context of government employment, could also be a violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
For example, in 2016, the First Circuit Court of Appeals held that a police officer’s rights were violated when his superior punished him after he objected to prayers conducted at the end of a monthly meeting, telling the officer to leave formation and shouting –in front of the entire group — that the officer didn’t “believe in what we believe in”. When the officer complained about the incident and filed an administrative complaint, he was transferred to a post where he was deprived of his usual law enforcement responsibilities.
In a case out of the Fifth Circuit, the Court ruled that if an employer, who discharged a worker for refusing to pray the Rosary with a nursing home client, knew the worker’s refusal was based on her conflicting religious beliefs, a case of religious discrimination would have been made out. However, in that case, the worker had failed to tell the employer of the reason for her refusal – and she lost the case. Nobach v Woodland Village Nursing Center, Inc., 799 F3d 127 (CA 5, 2015).
A case of religious harassment and retaliation was made where the plaintiff, a Muslim woman, had alleged that her employer screamed at her, told other workers to work with “good Christians,” and called the plaintiff “evil,” and filed false disciplinary reports against her. When the woman she filed a charge with the EEOC, additional actions were taken against her, and she was prohibited from conduct allowed to “Christian” workers. Huri v Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, 804 F3d 826 (2015).
As you can see, the law does not favor mixing work and religion. If you think you have been the victim of religious harassment or discrimination, you should consult a lawyer. The lawyers at GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC are experienced attorneys and are happy to answer your questions. Give us a call for a free initial telephone consultation about your legal needs. For consideration of your questions in our web column, please submit your inquiry on the “Contact Us” page of our website at www.gwinntauriainenlaw.com.
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ASK THE LAWYER
By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC
901 Wilshire Drive, Suite 550
Troy, MI 48084
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