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Your New Jersey Religious Discrimination Case Can Be About What Religion You Observe, or How You Practice Your Beliefs

In some cases, the religious discrimination you encounter at work may be the result of differing faiths, like an atheist supervisor relentlessly teasing a Muslim subordinate about her religious head covering, or a Catholic supervisor firing a subordinate when she discovered the subordinate was Wiccan. Religious discrimination at work is not limited, however, to disagreements between people of differing faiths. It is possible for you to be the target of illegal employment discrimination based on religion even if you and the person responsible for the discrimination are members of the same religion, same denomination, or even the same church body. In either scenario, the law protects workers from this kind of hostility at work, so you should get in touch with a knowledgeable New Jersey religious discrimination lawyer about how to protect your rights.

The religious discrimination case of L.S., a South Jersey woman who worked as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) at a Voorhees Township assisted living facility, is an example of the latter of the two above categories.

L.S. worked for the facility for roughly 18 months until the employer terminated her in January 2021. Before the nurse started working at the facility she attended a church whose members also included P.W., a unit manager at the same assisted living facility. Before the nurse started her job at the facility, she left that congregation due to “issues with the church’s administration.”

However, not long after the nurse started working at the facility, the manager allegedly began “pressuring her into participating in activities related to” the church L.S. had left. Specifically, the manager asked L.S. to take part in “fundraisers and other activities,” which the nurse always declined.

The more she said “no,” the worse things got at work, according to L.S.’s complaint. These alleged retributions included “close surveillance,” as well as the manager’s seeking “pretextual reasons for discipline.”

On these facts, the nurse sued, alleging religious discrimination and retaliation. The employer asked the court to throw out the lawsuit, but the trial court concluded that the harm the nurse alleged was adequate to state a claim of religious discrimination that was sufficient to overcome a motion to dismiss.

As a backdrop for ruling in favor of the nurse, the court noted that in the Third Circuit, which includes New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, there’s a three-part standard for what constitutes “religion” for purposes of a federal religious discrimination claim. Those parts are:

  1. an attempt to address “fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters,”
  2. a comprehensive belief system and not mere isolated teaching, and
  3. something “often… recognized by the presence of certain formal and external signs.”

This definition is broad enough to encompass a variety of beliefs, ranging from Christianity, Islam, and Judaism to smaller, less traditional religions like Wicca and Rastafarianism.

Religious discrimination at work can occur because you identify as a member of a particular belief, but it is not limited solely to that scenario. It can also occur because you’re not a member of a particular religion. In 1993, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers several western states,) rules in favor of a woman who alleged that she suffered discrimination because she was not a Mormon.

Furthermore, it can happen when someone punishes you at work because they don’t like the way you practice your religion. In 2018, the nearby Eastern District of Pennsylvania court ruled against an employer seeking to throw out a case brought by a Catholic worker who alleged discrimination at the hands of his Catholic supervisor after he “expressed disdain” for the way the supervisor practiced his Catholic faith.

Not Just What Religion, But Where and How to Practice that Belief

In much the same way that any employee can pursue a case based on adverse action endured for not being a member of a particular denomination or for practicing their faith in a less strict or orthodox fashion, “an individual’s decision as to ‘where’ and ‘how’ to practice her religion falls within the ambit of protected religious activity under both” federal law and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, the court stated in ruling for L.S.

Deciding whether to observe a religion and, if so, determining when, how, and where to do so are very personal decisions. If you were fired, demoted, suspended, or otherwise punished, whether as the result of your religious beliefs or your irreligion, you have rights that are protected by law. The knowledgeable New Jersey religious discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help you protect those rights. To find out more, contact us online or at (866) 530-4330 to set up a free and confidential consultation today.

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