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Sent on Mormon-News: 22Jun01

By Mark Wright

Religious Discrimination Can Cut Both Ways

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- Discrimination in the workplace can take many forms and acts of discrimination can cause a company serious legal problems. With the ever-increasing diversity in the modern workforce, it can be a significant challenge just to figure out what does or what does not constitute "discrimination," especially when it comes to religion. An article which appeared recently in the Salt Lake Tribune highlights many of the issues with which employers must currently struggle. Written by employment law attorney David Anderson, this article also mentions a specific incident of alleged religious discrimination by a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

According to Anderson's article, an employer may be found liable if it allows supervisors or managers to pressure subordinates to participate in religious behavior or change their behavior simply because of the supervisor's religious beliefs. In a recent case in California, for example, a homosexual employee claimed his former supervisor, a Mormon told the employee he should "become a heterosexual and a Mormon or he would go to hell." This same employee also claimed that he was repeatedly pressured to participate in prayer meetings at work. After quitting his job, the employee sued, claiming religious harassment and "constructive discharge" which is a legalistic way of saying that the employee was forced to quit because the work environment was simply intolerable. While his claims may ultimately prove to be without merit, the trial judge has decided to let the case go to the jury.

In his article, Anderson also points out that not only must an employer attempt to prevent overt religious discrimination, the law also requires employers to accommodate an employee's specific religious beliefs and practices. For example, a female employee of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) contended that, based upon her religious beliefs, she could refuse to provide counseling to an employee who sought assistance in working out the troubles she was having in her relationship with her same-sex partner. The court agreed. Additional examples cited by Anderson highlighted other aspects of religious belief that may be invoked to eliminate alleged discrimination. In yet another case, the court decided that a female employee may properly object to the display of sexually suggestive photographs, on the basis of her religion alone, without ever characterizing the issue as sexual harassment.

While Mormons have experienced a tremendous amount of religious discrimination throughout their history, it's good to remember that religious discrimination is also a problem for many other faiths. It's also a good idea for everyone to respect the beliefs and practices of other religions as a way to encourage respect for their own beliefs as well.


Religious Discrimination A Complex Workplace Issue
Salt Lake Tribune 17Jun01 N1
By David Anderson


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