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EEOC case highlights religious rights in the workplace

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects people here in Texas from being discriminated against in hiring as well as in the workplace. It specifically bars discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, color, sex and religion. While all of these types of discrimination have been outlawed since 1964, many people do still face illegal employment discrimination right here in El Paso.

One type of employment discrimination that it appears many people struggle with is that of religious discrimination. This is because the law not only requires employers to treat employees and applicants of different religions fairly, but it asks employers to accommodate expressions of religious beliefs. A lawsuit that was recently filed against an energy company is a great example of this.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued an energy industry employer for forcing a longtime employee to retire after he made a request for a religious accommodation.

The man was working as a laborer in a mine when the company began asking employees to track their hours with a biometric hand scanner. The laborer, an Evangelical Christian, had been with the company for more than 35 years before the new time-tracking machine was installed. He asked his supervisor if he could be excused from using the machine because it was in contradiction to his religious beliefs; specifically, he said, the technology of hand scanning is linked to the antichrist, as per the New Testament’s Book of Revelation. The man asked if he could go back to submitting his attendance records the way he had done before the hand scanner was installed.

The company refused to make an exception to its practices for this man, and thus forced him into retirement, according to the lawsuit.

While this laborer’s request likely seems odd to those who do not share in his religious beliefs, federal employment law requires employers to make religious accommodations so long as they do not cause a significant hardship for the employer.

More common religious accommodations include things like altered schedules in order to attend church services, dress-code exceptions in order to wear religious headscarves, and being excused from prayers that take place at work. As noted above, however, the important thing is not whether a request is popular, but whether the accommodation would place an undue burden on an employer.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “EEOC Sues Consol Energy and Consolidation Coal Company for Religious Discrimination,” Sept. 25, 2013