According to a recent Wall Street Journal piece, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 3,811 religious discrimination complaints last year.
While this number represents a dip from the record 4,151 religious-discrimination claims brought to the EEOC in 2011, the article notes that religion-based complaints have more than doubled in the past 15 years, and are growing at “a faster clip” than claims involving race, age, sex or disability, for example.
Part of this uptick “comes from employees—Muslims, Christians, Seventh-Day Adventists and others—who were denied requests to avoid work on Sabbath days,” according to the article. “Conflicts have also erupted over workers’ appearance, particularly in jobs requiring uniforms, involving food preparation and in image-focused fashion retailing.”
In September, for instance, New Albany, Ohio-based clothing chain Abercrombie & Fitch settled EEOC lawsuits involving two Muslim women and their hijabs, the veils typically worn to cover the head and chest of Muslim females. In one case, former employee Umme-Hani Khan said she was fired after an A & F manager said her hijab violated the company’s “Look Policy” dress code. The other suit alleged Abercrombie refused to hire an applicant who wore a hijab. Per the settlement, the retailer will inform applicants that exceptions to its “Look Policy” may be available, and must also regularly review its religious accommodation decisions and report to the EEOC twice annually.
Also in September, the EEOC sued Canonsburg, Pa.-based Consol Energy Inc., alleging the company pushed a long-time employee to retire after he objected to using a new biometric hand scanning device that tracks employee time and attendance. According to the claim, the employee repeatedly told mine officials that submitting to a biometric hand scanner violated his beliefs as an Evangelical Christian, and wrote a letter explaining the relationship between hand-scanning technology and the Mark of the Beast discussed in the Book of Revelation of the New Testament.
Earlier this year, the EEOC filed a suit charging that Star Transport Inc. refused to provide two employees with an accommodation of their religious beliefs when it terminated their employment because they refused to deliver alcohol.
Despite the growing number of religious discrimination complaints being brought to the EEOC, it remains a small number that actually reach the litigation stage. In fact, the EEOC filed nine religion-based lawsuits in fiscal year 2012, a drop from 15 in 2011 and 24 in 2010.
Still, settlements of religious discrimination claims such as those leveled against Abercrombie & Fitch often oblige companies to provide training and meet other requirements, as seen in Abercrombie & Fitch’s case. Other organizations may be wise to take note, as these settlements should serve “as a teaching example for other employers,” Jeanne Goldberg, senior attorney advisor with the EEOC, told the Wall Street Journal.