What does it take to prove a hostile work environment claim based on religious
discrimination? If you are discouraged from displaying religious objects
in your workplace by a supervisor of a different religion, is that enough?
case decided in Arizona Federal District Court gives us some guidance. Marcy
Rich, a training and support specialist for Arizona Regional Multiple
Listing Service (ARMLS), who is Jewish, alleged that her supervisor, who
is a "born again" Christian, created a hostile work environment
for her. The supervisor told her she was "dead" because she
did not "reveal Jesus" to herself. In addition, she placed crosses
on invitations to a mandatory company holiday party, hired carolers who
sang songs with Christian lyrics such as "Christ our Lord".
Rich was given a poinsettia, and she alleged that her supervisor told her
that it was inappropriate to decorate her cubicle with Happy Hanukkah
cards and cutouts of a dreidel and a menorah. Rich was also told by her
supervisor that he thought she would have a conflict with another employee
because of her religion.
Rich brought a hostile work environment claim, among other claims related
to lack of promotions. The company argued that no such hostile work environment
due to religion existed because her claims involved Christmas-related
activities, not religion. The court disagreed, finding that Title VII
defines the term "religion" to include "all aspects of
religious observance and practice, as well as belief". The court
noted that although some Christmas symbols, such as Christmas trees and
poinsettias, have attained assumed primarily a secular significance, it
differentiated those from statements made to Rich about the birth of Christ,
crosses on holiday invitations, and songs about "Christ our Lord".
As to the company's claim that the allegations were minor and not severe
enough to affect the terms and conditions of Rich's employment, the
court stated that harassment need not be "unendurable" or "intolerable"
to be illegal. Although "some rolling with the punches is a fact
of workplace life", if a reasonable employee finds the conditions
of her employment adversely affected by the employer's actions which
are based on religion, she has a case.
The takeaway: Religious discrimination is not always overt; it can be about
symbols and practices which are imposed on employees who then are adversely
affected and are made to experience a hostile work environment.