Case Studies

The following case studies have been copied from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website. If you would like more information about these case studies, please visit their website. There are some great resources on their website for giving guidance on how to properly accommodate different religions in the workplace.


Employment Decisions Based on “Religion”

An otherwise qualified applicant is not hired because he is a self-described evangelical Christian.  A qualified non-Jewish employee is denied promotion because the supervisor wishes to give a preference based on religion to a fellow Jewish employee.  An employer terminates an employee based on his disclosure to the employer that he has recently converted to the Baha’i Faith.  Each of these is an example of an employment decision based on the religious belief or practice of the applicant or employee, and therefore is discrimination based on “religion” within the meaning of Title VII.


Religious Practice versus Secular Practice

A Seventh-day Adventist employee follows a vegetarian diet because she believes it is religiously prescribed by scripture.  Her vegetarianism is a religious practice, even though not all Seventh-day Adventists share this belief or follow this practice, and even though many individuals adhere to a vegetarian diet for purely secular reasons.


Types of Religious Practice or Observance

A Catholic employee requests a schedule change so that he can attend a church service on Good Friday.  A Muslim employee requests an exception to the company’s dress and grooming code allowing her to wear her headscarf, or a Hindu employee requests an exception allowing her to wear her bindi (religious forehead marking).  An employee asks to be excused from the religious invocation offered at the beginning of staff meetings because he objects on religious grounds or does not ascribe to the religious sentiments expressed.  An adherent to Native American spiritual beliefs seeks unpaid leave to attend a ritual ceremony.  An employee who identifies as Christian but is not affiliated with a particular sect or denomination requests accommodation of his religious belief that working on his Sabbath is prohibited.  Each of these requests relates to a “religious” belief, observance, or practice within the meaning of Title VII.  The question of whether the employer is required to grant these requests is discussed in the section below addressing religious accommodation.


Supervisor Considers Belief Illogical

Morgan asks for time off on October 31 to attend the “Samhain Sabbat,” the New Year observance of Wicca, her religion.  Her supervisor refuses, saying that Wicca is not a “real” religion but an “illogical conglomeration” of “various aspects of the occult, such as faith healing, self‑hypnosis, tarot card reading, and spell casting, which are not religious practices.”  The supervisor’s refusal to accommodate her on the ground that he believes her religion is illogical or not a “real religion” violates Title VII unless the employer can show her request would impose an undue hardship.  The law applies to religious beliefs even though others may find them “incorrect” or “incomprehensible.”[35]


Unique Belief Can Be Religious

Edward practices the Kemetic religion, based on ancient Egyptian faith, and affiliates himself with a tribe numbering fewer than ten members. He states that he believes in various deities, and follows the faith’s concept of Ma’at, a guiding principle regarding truth and order that represents physical and moral balance in the universe.  During a religious ceremony he received small tattoos encircling his wrist, written in the Coptic language, which express his servitude to Ra, the Egyptian god of the sun.  When his employer asks him to cover the tattoos, he explains that it is a sin to cover them intentionally because doing so would signify a rejection of Ra.  These can be religious beliefs and practices even if no one else or few other people subscribe to them.[36]


  Personal Preference That Is Not a Religious Belief

Sylvia’s job has instituted a policy that employees cannot have visible tattoos while working.  Sylvia refuses to cover a tattoo on her arm that is the logo of her favorite band.  When her manager asks her to cover the tattoo, she states that she cannot and that she feels so passionately about the importance of the band to her life that it is essentially her religion.  However, the evidence demonstrates that her tattoos and her feelings do not relate to any “ultimate concerns” such as life, purpose, death, humanity’s place in the universe, or right and wrong, and they are not part of a moral or ethical belief system.  Simply feeling passionately about something is not enough to give it the status of a religion in someone’s life.  Therefore, her belief is a personal preference that is not religious in nature.[37]


Religious Organization Exemption Applies  

Justina taught mathematics at a small Catholic college, which requires all employees to agree to adhere to Catholic doctrine. After she signed a pro-choice advertisement in the local newspaper, the college terminated her employment because of her public support of a position in violation of Church doctrine.  Justina claimed sex discrimination, alleging that male professors were treated less harshly for other conduct that violated Church doctrine.  Because the exemption to Title VII preserves the religious school’s ability to maintain a community composed of individuals faithful to its doctrinal practices, and because evaluating Justina’s discipline compared to the male professors, who engaged in different behavior, would require the court to compare the relative severity of violations of religious doctrines, Title VII’s religious organization exemption bars adjudication of the sex discrimination claim.[79]  The analysis would be different if a male professor at the school signed the same advertisement and was not terminated, because “[r]equiring a religious employer to explain why it has treated two employees who have committed essentially the same offense differently poses no threat to the employer’s ability to create and maintain communities of the faithful.”[80]



Charles, the president of a company that owns several gas stations, needs managers for the new convenience stores he has decided to add to the stations.  He posts a job announcement at the Hindu Temple he attends expressing a preference for Hindu employees.  In doing so, Charles is engaging in unlawful discrimination.[129]



A.  Mary is a human resources officer who is filling a vacant administrative position at her company.  During the application process, she performs an Internet search on the candidates and learns that one applicant, Jonathan, has written an article in which he describes himself as an Evangelical Christian and discusses how important his Christian faith is to all aspects of his life.  Although Mary believes he is the most qualified candidate, she does not hire him because she knows that the company prefers to have a “secular” work environment and she thinks that most of the company’s employees will find working with someone so religious “weird.”  Therefore, Mary decides that it is best not to hire Jonathan.  By not hiring Jonathan because of his religion, the company violated Title VII. 

B.  Aatma, an applicant for a rental car sales position who is an observant Sikh, wears a dastaar (religious headscarf) to her job interview.  The interviewer does not advise her that there is a dress code prohibiting head coverings, and Aatma does not ask whether she would be permitted to wear the headscarf if she were hired.  The manager knew or suspected the headscarf was a religious garment, presumed it would be worn at work, and refused to hire her because the company requires sales agents to wear a uniform with no additions or exceptions.  Unless the employer can demonstrate that no reasonable accommodation was possible absent undue hardship, this refusal to hire violates Title VII, even though Aatma did not make a request for accommodation at the interview, because the employer believed her practice was religious and that she would need accommodation, and did not hire her for that reason.[130]

C.  A company’s policy bars any employees from working in customer contact positions if they have a beard or wear a headcovering, and requests for religious accommodations are always denied. As a result of this policy and practice, individuals who wear beards or headcoverings pursuant to a religious belief work in lower-paying positions or positions with less opportunity for advancement.  This would constitute limiting, segregating, or classifying based on religion in violation of Title VII, and may also have an unlawful disparate impact based on religion if it is not job-related and consistent with business necessity.[131]



Darpak, who practices Buddhism, holds a Ph.D. degree in engineering and applied for a managerial position at the research firm where he has worked for ten years.  He was rejected in favor of a non-Buddhist candidate who was less qualified.  The company vice president who made the promotion decision advised Darpak that he was not selected because “we decided to go in a different direction.”  However, the vice president confided to coworkers at a social function that he did not select Darpak because he thought a Christian manager could make better personal connections with the firm’s clients, many of whom are Christian.  The vice president’s statement, combined with the lack of any legitimate non-discriminatory reason for selecting the less qualified candidate, as well as the evidence that Darpak was the best qualified candidate for the position, suggests that the proffered reason was a pretext for discrimination against Darpak because of his religion.[132]



Joanne, a retail store clerk, is frequently 10-15 minutes late for her shift on several days per week when she attends Mass at a Catholic church across town.  Her manager, Donald, has never disciplined her for this tardiness, and instead filled in for her at the cash register until she arrived, stating that he understood her situation. On the other hand, Yusef, a newly hired clerk who is Muslim, is disciplined by Donald for arriving 10 minutes late for his shift even though Donald knows it is due to his attendance at services at the local mosque.  While Donald can require all similarly situated employees to be punctual, he is engaging in disparate treatment based on religion by disciplining only Yusef and not Joanne absent a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for treating them differently.


Wages and Benefits

Janet, who practices Native American spirituality, is a newly hired social worker for an agency.  As a benefit to its employees, the agency provides tuition reimbursement for professional continuing education courses offered by selected providers.  Janet applied for tuition reimbursement for an approved course that was within the permitted cost limit.  Janet’s supervisor denied her request for tuition reimbursement, stating that since Janet believes in “voodoo” she “won’t make a very good caseworker.”  By refusing, because of Janet’s religious beliefs, to provide the tuition reimbursement to which Janet was otherwise entitled as a benefit of her employment, Janet’s supervisor has discriminated against Janet on the basis of religion in violation of Title VII.


 Religious Expression 

Eve is a secretary who displays a Bible on her desk at work.  Xavier, a secretary in the same workplace, begins displaying a Quran on his desk at work.  Their supervisor allows Eve to retain the Bible but directs Xavier to put the Quran out of view because, he states, coworkers “will think you are making a political statement, and with everything going on in the world right now we don’t need that around here.”  This differential treatment of similarly situated employees with respect to the display of a religious item at work constitutes religious discrimination.[137]


  Employment Decision Based on Customer Preference

Harinder, who wears a turban as part of his Sikh religion, is hired to work at the counter in a coffee shop.  A few weeks after Harinder begins working, the manager notices that the work crew from the construction site near the shop no longer comes in for coffee in the mornings.  When he inquires, the crew complains that Harinder, whom they mistakenly believe is Muslim, makes them uncomfortable in light of the September 11th attacks.  The manager tells Harinder that he has to let him go because the customers’ discomfort is understandable.  The manager has subjected Harinder to unlawful religious discrimination by taking an adverse action based on customers’ preference not to have a cashier of Harinder’s perceived religion.  Harinder’s termination based on customer preference would violate Title VII regardless of whether he was – or was misperceived to be — Muslim, Sikh, or any other religion.


Religious Conformance Required for Promotion

Wamiq was raised as a Muslim but no longer practices Islam.  His supervisor, Arif, is a very devout Muslim who tries to persuade Wamiq not to abandon Islam and advises him to follow the teachings of the Quran.  Arif also says that if Wamiq expects to advance in the company, he should join Arif and other Muslims for weekly prayer sessions in Arif’s office.  Notwithstanding this pressure to conform his religious practices in order to be promoted, Wamiq refuses to attend the weekly prayer sessions, and is subsequently denied the promotion for which he applied even though he is the most qualified.  Arif’s conduct indicates that the promotion would have been granted if Wamiq had participated in the prayer sessions and had become an observant Muslim.  Absent contrary evidence, the employer will be liable for harassment for conditioning Wamiq’s promotion on his adherence to Arif’s views of appropriate religious practice.[154] 

Not promoting Wamiq would also be actionable as disparate treatment based on religion, unless the employer could demonstrate a non-religiously based, non-pretextual reason for denying Wamiq the promotion.  In addition, if Arif had made the prayer sessions mandatory and Wamiq had asked to be excused on religious grounds, Arif would have been required to excuse Wamiq from the prayer sessions as a reasonable accommodation.


Harassing Conduct Based on Religion – Religion Mentioned

Mohammed is an Indian-born Muslim employed at a car dealership.  Because he takes scheduled prayer breaks during the workday and observes Muslim dietary restrictions, his coworkers are aware of his religious beliefs.  Upset by the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, his coworkers and managers began making mocking comments about his religious dietary restrictions and need to pray during the workday.  They repeatedly referred to him as “Taliban” or “Arab” and asked him “why don’t you just go back where you came from since you believe what you believe?”  When Mohammed questioned why it was mandatory for all employees to attend a United Way meeting, his supervisor said: “This is America.  That’s the way things work over here.  This is not the Islamic country where you come from.”  After this confrontation, the supervisor issued Mohammed a written warning stating that he “was acting like a Muslim extremist” and that the supervisor could not work with him because of his “militant stance.”  This harassment is based on religion and national origin.[161]


Harassing Conduct Based on Religion – Religion Not Mentioned

Shoshanna is a Seventh-day Adventist whose work schedule was adjusted to accommodate her Sabbath observance, which begins at sundown each Friday.  When Nicholas, the new head of Shoshanna’s department, was informed that he must accommodate her, he told a colleague that “anybody who cannot work regular hours should work elsewhere.”  Nicholas then moved the regular Monday morning staff meetings to late Friday afternoon, repeatedly scheduled staff and client meetings on Friday afternoons, and often marked Shoshanna AWOL when she was not scheduled to work.  In addition, Nicholas treated her differently than her colleagues by, for example, denying her training opportunities and loudly berating her with little or no provocation.  Although Nicholas did not mention Shoshanna’s religion, the evidence shows that his conduct was because of Shoshanna’s need for religious accommodation, and therefore was based on religion.[162]


Unwelcome Conduct

Beth’s colleague, Bill, repeatedly talked to her at work about her prospects for salvation.  For several months, she did not object and discussed the matter with him.  When he persisted even after she told him that he had “crossed the line” and should stop having non-work-related conversations with her, the conduct was clearly unwelcome.[167]


Reasonable Person Perceives Conduct to Be Hostile

The president of Printing Corp. regularly mocked and berated an employee who asked for Sundays off to attend Mass.  Although he granted the time off, the president teased the employee for refusing to look at a Playboy magazine, called him a “religious freak,” and used vulgar sexual language when speaking to or about the employee.  He mocked him for “following the Pope around” and made sexual comments about the Virgin Mary.  A reasonable person could perceive this to be a religiously hostile work environment.[172]


Insensitive Comments Not Enough to Constitute Hostile Environment

Marvin is an Orthodox Jew who was hired as a radio show host.  When he started work, a coworker, Stacy, pointed to his yarmulke and asked, “Will your headset fit over that?”  On a few occasions, Stacy made other remarks about the yarmulke, such as: “Nice hat.  Is that a beanie?” and “Do they come in different colors?”  Although the coworker’s comments about his yarmulke were insensitive, they were not, standing alone, sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment for Marvin.[178]


Isolated Comments Not Enough to Constitute Hostile Environment

Bob, a supervisor, occasionally allowed spontaneous and voluntary prayers by employees during office meetings.  During one meeting, he referenced Bible passages related to “slothfulness” and “work ethics.”  Amy complained that Bob’s comments and the few instances of allowing voluntary prayers during office meetings created a hostile environment.  The comments did not create an actionable harassment claim.  They were not severe, and because they occurred infrequently, they were not sufficiently pervasive to state a claim.[179]


One Instance of Physically Threatening Conduct Sufficiently Severe

Ihsaan is a Muslim.  Shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Ihsaan came to work and found the words “I’m tired of you Muslims.  You’re all terrorists!  We will avenge the victims!!  Your life is next!” scrawled in red marker on his office door.  Because of the timing of the statement and the direct physical threat, this incident, alone, is sufficiently severe to create an objectively hostile and/or abusive work environment.[182]


Isolated Practices Not Enough to Constitute Hostile Environment

Tran owns a restaurant serving Asian-fusion cuisine.  The restaurant is decorated with Vietnamese art depicting scenes from traditional religious stories.  Tran keeps a shrine of Buddha in the corner by the cash register and likes to play traditional Vietnamese music and chants. Linda has worked as a waitress in the restaurant for a few months and complains that she feels harassed by the religious symbols and music.  As long as Tran does not discriminate on the basis of religion in his hiring or supervision of employees, the religious expression would likely not amount to practices that are severe or pervasive enough to constitute a hostile work environment based on religion.


Persistent Offensive Remarks Constitute Hostile Environment

Betty is a Mormon.  During a disagreement regarding a joint project, a coworker, Julian, tells Betty that she doesn’t know what she is talking about and that she should “go back to Salt Lake City.”  When Betty subsequently proposes a different approach to the project, Julian tells her that her suggestions are as “flaky” as he would expect from “her kind.”  When Betty tries to resolve the conflict, Julian tells her that if she is uncomfortable working with him, she can either ask to be transferred, or she can “just pray about it.”  Over the next six months, Julian regularly makes similar negative references to Betty’s religion.  His persistent offensive remarks create a hostile environment.


No Hostile Environment from Comments That Are Not Abusive and Not Directed at Complaining Employee

While eating lunch in the company cafeteria, Clarence often overhears conversations between his coworkers Dharma and Khema.  Dharma, a Buddhist, is discussing meditation techniques with Khema, who is interested in Buddhism.  Clarence strongly believes that meditation is an occult practice that offends him, and he complains to their supervisor that Dharma and Khema are creating a hostile environment for him.  Such conversations taking place in the cafeteria do not constitute severe or pervasive religious harassment of Clarence, particularly given that they do not insult other religions and they were not directed at him.


Supervisory Harassment with Tangible Employment Action

George, a manager in an accounting firm, is an atheist who has frequently been heard to say that he thinks anyone who is deeply religious is a zealot with his own agenda and cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of the clients.  George particularly ridicules Debra, a devoutly observant Jehovah’s Witness, and consistently withholds the most desirable assignments from her.  He denies her request for a promotion to a more prestigious job in another division, saying that he can’t let her “spread that religious poppycock any further.”  Debra files a religious harassment charge.  The firm asserts in its position statement that it is not liable because Debra never made a complaint under its internal anti-harassment policy and complaint procedures.  Because the harassment was by a supervisor of Debra’s and culminated in a tangible employment action (failure to promote), the employer is liable for the harassment even if it has an effective anti-harassment policy, and even if Debra never complained. If George is a “proxy” of the firm, then the firm is also liable for the harassment even in the absence of a tangible employment action.  Additionally, the denial of promotion would be actionable as disparate treatment based on religion. 


Supervisory Harassment Without Tangible Employment Action

Jennifer’s employer, XYZ, had an anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure that covered religious harassment.  All employees were aware of it because XYZ widely and regularly publicized it.  Despite his knowledge of the policy, Jennifer’s supervisor frequently mocked her religious beliefs.  When Jennifer told him that his comments bothered her, he told her that he was just kidding and she should not take everything so seriously.  Jennifer never reported the supervisor’s conduct.  When one of Jennifer’s coworkers eventually reported the supervisor’s harassing conduct under the employer’s antiharassment procedure, the employer promptly investigated and acted effectively to stop the supervisor’s conduct.  Jennifer then filed a religious harassment charge.  Because the harassment of Jennifer did not culminate in a tangible employment action, XYZ will not be liable for the harassment if it can show both that Jennifer’s failure to utilize XYZ’s available complaint mechanisms was unreasonable, and that XYZ exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct the harassment. The employer should be able to make the “promptly correct” showing, because it took prompt and reasonable corrective measures once it did learn of the harassment.[191]


Harassment by Coworkers

John, who is a Christian Scientist, shares an office with Rick, a Mormon.  Rick repeatedly tells John that he is practicing a false religion, and that he should study Mormon literature.  Despite John’s protestations that he is very happy with his religion and has no desire to convert, Rick regularly leaves religious pamphlets on John’s desk and tries to talk to him about religion.  After asking Rick to stop the behavior to no avail, John complains to their immediate supervisor, who dismisses John’s complaint on the ground that Rick is a nice person who believes that he is just being helpful.  If the harassment continues, the employer is liable because it knew, through the supervisor, about Rick’s harassing conduct but failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action.[194]


Harassment by a Contractor

Tristan works for XYZ, a contractor that manages Crossroads Corporation’s mail room.  When Tristan delivers the mail to Julia, the Crossroads receptionist, he gives her religious tracts, attempts to convert her to his religion, tells her that her current religious beliefs will lead her to Hell, and persists even after she tells him to stop.  Julia reports Tristan’s conduct to her supervisor, who tells her that he cannot do anything because Tristan does not work for Crossroads.  If the harassment continues, the supervisor’s failure to act is likely to subject Crossroads to liability because Tristan’s conduct is severe or pervasive and based on religion, and Crossroads failed to take corrective action within its control after Julia reported the harassment.  Options available to Julia’s supervisor or the appropriate individual in the supervisor’s chain of command might include initiating a meeting with Tristan and XYZ management regarding the harassment and demanding that it cease, that appropriate disciplinary action be taken if it continues, and/or that a different mail carrier be assigned to Julia’s route.


Failure to Advise Employer That Request Is Due to Religious Practice or Belief

Jim agreed to take his employer’s drug test but was terminated because he refused to sign the accompanying consent form.  After his termination, Jim filed a charge alleging that the employer failed to accommodate his religious objection to swearing an oath.  Until it received notice of the charge, the employer did not know that Jim’s refusal to sign the form was based on his religious beliefs.  Because the employer was not notified of the conflict at the time Jim refused to sign the form, or at any time prior to Jim’s termination, it did not have an opportunity to offer to accommodate him.  The employer has not violated Title VII.[220]


Sincerity of Religious Belief Questioned

Bob, who had been a dues-paying member of the CDF union for fourteen years, had a work-related dispute with a union official and one week later asserted that union activities were contrary to his religion and that he could no longer pay union dues.  The union doubted whether Bob’s request was based on a sincerely held religious belief, given that it appeared to be precipitated by an unrelated dispute with the union, and he had not sought this accommodation in his prior fourteen years of employment.  In this situation, the union can require him to provide additional information to support his assertion that he sincerely holds a religious conviction that precludes him from belonging to – or financially supporting – a union.[225]


Clarifying a Request

Diane requests that her employer schedule her for “fewer hours” so that she can “attend church more frequently.”  The employer denies the request because it is not clear what schedule Diane is requesting or whether the change is sought due to a religious belief or practice.  While Diane’s request lacked sufficient detail for the employer to make a final decision, it was sufficient to constitute a religious accommodation request.  Rather than denying the request outright, the employer should have obtained the information from Diane that it needed to make a decision.  The employer could have inquired of Diane precisely what schedule change was sought and for what purpose, and how her current schedule conflicted with her religious practices or beliefs.  Diane would then have had an obligation to provide sufficient information to permit her employer to make a reasonable assessment of whether her request was based on a sincerely held religious belief, the precise conflict that existed between her work schedule and church schedule, and whether granting an accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the employer’s business.


Employer Violates Title VII if it Offers Only Partial Accommodation Where Full Accommodation Would Not Pose an Undue Hardship

Rachel, who worked as a ticket agent at a sports arena, asked not to be scheduled for any Friday night or Saturday shifts, to permit her to observe the Jewish Sabbath from sunset on Friday through sunset on Saturday.  The arena wanted to give Rachel this time off only every other week.  The arena’s proposed adjustment does not fully eliminate the religious conflict and therefore cannot be deemed a reasonable accommodation in the absence of a showing that giving Rachel the requested time off every week poses an undue hardship for the arena.  If the arena makes that showing, it must still accommodate Rachel’s religious practice to the extent it can without suffering an undue hardship, which could include granting some, but not all, Friday evenings and/or Saturdays off.[234]


Employer Not Obligated to Provide Employee’s Preferred Accommodation

Tina, a newly hired part-time store cashier whose sincerely held religious belief is that she should refrain from work on Sunday as part of her Sabbath observance, asked her supervisor never to schedule her to work on Sundays.  Tina specifically asked to be scheduled to work Saturdays instead.  In response, her employer offered to allow her to work on Thursdays, which she found inconvenient because she takes a college class on that day.  Even if Tina preferred a different schedule, the employer is not required to grant Tina’s preferred accommodation.[235]


Accommodation by Transfer

Yvonne, a member of the Pentecostal faith, was employed as a nurse at a hospital.  When she was assigned to the Labor and Delivery Unit, she advised the nurse manager that her faith forbids her from participating directly or indirectly in ending a life, and that this proscription prevents her from assisting with abortions.  She asked the hospital to accommodate her religious beliefs by allowing her to trade assignments with other nurses in the Labor and Delivery Unit as needed.  The hospital concluded that, due to staffing cuts and risks to patients’ safety, it could not accommodate Yvonne within the Labor and Delivery Unit because there were not enough staff members able and willing to trade with her.  The hospital instead offered to permit Yvonne to transfer, without a reduction in pay or benefits, to a vacant nursing position in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit, which did not perform abortion procedures.  As described below,[236] an employee should be accommodated in his or her current position absent an undue hardship.  Here, the hospital could not accommodate Yvonne in her current position due to staffing cuts and risks to patient safety, so the hospital’s solution of a lateral transfer complies with Title VII.[237]  If the hospital is government run or receives federal funds, it could also have obligations to accommodate Yvonne under federal laws protecting conscience rights of its health care employees.[238]


Religious Need Can Be Accommodated

David wears long hair pursuant to his Native American religious beliefs.  David applies for a job as a server at a restaurant which requires its male employees to wear their hair “short and neat,” in order to provide a certain image to its customers.  When the restaurant manager informs David that if offered the position he will have to cut his hair, David explains that he keeps his hair long based on his religious beliefs and offers to wear it held up with a clip or under a hair net.  The manager refuses this accommodation and denies David the position based on his long hair.  Since the evidence indicated that David could have been accommodated, without undue hardship, by wearing his hair in a ponytail or held up with a clip, the employer will be liable for denial of reasonable accommodation and discriminatory failure to hire.


Safety Risk Poses Undue Hardship

Patricia alleges she was terminated from her job as a steel mill laborer because of her religion (Pentecostal) after she notified her supervisor that her faith prohibits her from wearing pants, as required by the mill’s dress code, and requested as an accommodation to be permitted to wear a skirt.  Management contends that the dress code is essential to the safe and efficient operation of the mill and has evidence that it was imposed following several accidents in which skirts worn by employees were caught in the same type of mill machinery that Patricia operates.  Because the evidence establishes that wearing pants is truly necessary for safety reasons, the accommodation requested by Patricia poses an undue hardship.[257]


Schedules Based on a Seniority System or Collectively Bargained Rights

Susan, an employee of Quick Corp., asks not to work on her Sabbath.  Quick Corp. and its employees’ union have negotiated a CBA which provides that weekend shifts will rotate evenly among employees.  If Susan can find qualified coworkers voluntarily willing to swap shifts to accommodate her sincerely held religious beliefs, the employer could be found liable for denial of reasonable accommodation if it refuses to permit the swap to occur.  The existence of the collectively bargained system for determining weekend shifts should not result in the denial of accommodation if a voluntary swap can be arranged by the employee without violating the system or otherwise posing an undue hardship.  The result would be the same if Quick Corp. had a unilaterally imposed bona fide seniority system (rather than a CBA) pursuant to which weekend shifts are determined.

However, if other employees were unwilling to swap shifts or were otherwise harmed by not requiring Susan to work on the shift in question, or the employer would be subject to other operational costs that were more than de minimis by allowing Susan to swap shifts, then the employer can demonstrate undue hardship.[261]


Accommodation Implicating Security Concerns

Patrick is employed as a correctional officer at a state prison, and his brother William is employed as a grocery store manager.  Both Patrick and William seek permission from their respective employers to wear a fez at work as an act of faith on a particular holy day as part of their religious expression.  Both employers deny the request, citing a uniformly applied workplace policy prohibiting employees from wearing any type of head covering.  The prison’s policy is based on security concerns, supported by evidence, that head coverings may be used to conceal drugs, weapons, or other contraband, and may spark internal violence among prisoners.  The grocery store’s policy is based on a stated desire that all employees wear uniform clothing so that they can be readily identified by customers.  If both brothers file EEOC charges challenging the denials of their accommodation requests, the EEOC likely will not find reasonable cause in Patrick’s case because the prison’s denial of his request was based on legitimate, evidence-based security considerations posed by the particular religious garb sought to be worn.  The EEOC likely will find cause in William’s case because there is no indication it would pose an undue hardship for the grocery store to modify its policy with respect to his request.[266]



Harvinder, a Sikh who works in a hospital, wears a small sheathed kirpan (religious article of faith resembling a knife) strapped and hidden underneath her clothing, as a symbol of her religious commitment to defend truth and moral values.  When Harvinder’s supervisor, Bill, learned about her kirpan from a coworker, he instructed Harvinder not to wear it at work because it violated the hospital policy against weapons in the workplace.  Harvinder explained to Bill that her faith requires her to wear a kirpan in order to comply with the Sikh Code of Conduct and gave him literature explaining that the kirpan is a religious article of faith, not a weapon.  She also showed him the kirpan, allowing him to see that it was no sharper than scissors, box cutters, cake knives, paper cutters, and other secular objects in the workplace.  Nevertheless, Bill told her that she would be terminated if she continued to wear the kirpan at work.  Absent evidence that allowing Harvinder to wear the kirpan would pose an undue hardship in the factual circumstances of this case, the hospital is liable for denial of accommodation.


Break Schedules/Prayer at Work

Rashid, a janitor, tells his employer on his first day of work that he practices Islam and will need to pray at several prescribed times during the workday in order to adhere to his religious practice of praying at five times each day, for several minutes, with hand washing beforehand.  The employer objects because its written policy allows one fifteen-minute break in the middle of each morning and afternoon.  Rashid’s requested change in break schedule will not exceed the 30 minutes of total break time otherwise allotted, nor will it affect his ability to perform his duties or otherwise cause an undue hardship for his employer.  Thus, Rashid is entitled to accommodation.[269]


Blanket Policies Prohibiting Time Off

A large employer operating a fleet of buses had a policy of refusing to accept driver applications unless the applicant agreed that he or she was available to be scheduled to work any shift, seven days a week. This policy would violate Title VII if applied to discriminate against applicants who refrain from work on certain days for religious reasons, by failing to allow for the provision of religious accommodation absent undue hardship.[270]


 Restaurant Server Excused from Singing Happy Birthday

Kim, a server at a restaurant, informed her manager that she would not be able to join other waitresses in singing “Happy Birthday” to customers because she is a Jehovah’s Witness whose religious beliefs do not allow her to celebrate holidays, including birthdays.  There were enough servers on duty at any given time to perform this singing without affecting service.  The manager refused any accommodation.  If Kim files a Title VII charge alleging denial of religious accommodation, the EEOC will find cause because the restaurant could have accommodated her with little or no expense or disruption.


Pharmacist Excused from Providing Contraceptives

Neil, a pharmacist, was hired by a large corporation that operates numerous large pharmacies at which more than one pharmacist is on duty during all hours of operation.  Neil informed his employer that he refuses on religious grounds to participate in distributing contraceptives or answering any customer inquiries about contraceptives.  The employer reasonably accommodated Neil by offering to allow Neil to signal discreetly to a coworker who would take over servicing any customer who telephoned, faxed, or came to the pharmacy regarding contraceptives.[276]


  Pharmacist Not Permitted to Turn Away Customers

In the above example, assume that instead of facilitating the assistance of such customers by a coworker, Neil leaves on hold indefinitely those who call on the phone about a contraceptive rather than transferring their calls, and walks away from in-store customers who seek to fill a contraceptive prescription rather than signaling a coworker.  Neil refuses to signal another employee or inform the customer on the phone that he is placing them on a brief hold while he gets another employee.  The employer is not required to accommodate Neil’s request to remain in such a position yet avoid all situations where he might even briefly interact with customers who have requested contraceptives, or to accommodate a disruption of business operations. The employer may discipline or terminate Neil if he disrupts business operations.[277]


  Lateral Transfer Versus Transfer to a Lower-Paying Position

An electrical utility lineman requests accommodation of his Sabbath observance, but because the nature of his position requires being available to handle emergency problems at any time, there is no accommodation that would permit the lineman to remain in his position without posing an undue hardship.  The employer can accommodate the lineman by offering a lateral transfer to another assignment at the same pay, if available.  If, however, no job at the same pay is readily available, then the employer could satisfy its obligation to reasonably accommodate the lineman by offering to transfer him to a different job, even at lower pay, if one is available.[281]


Facial Hair

Prakash, who works for CutX, a surgical instrument manufacturer, does not shave or trim his facial hair because of his Sikh religious observance.  When he seeks a promotion to manage the division responsible for sterilizing the instruments, his employer tells him that, to work in that division, he must shave or trim his beard because otherwise his beard may contaminate the sterile field.  When Prakash explains that he cannot trim his beard for religious reasons, the employer offers to allow Prakash to wear two face masks instead of trimming his beard.  Prakash thinks that wearing two masks is unreasonable (for reasons unrelated to his religious practice) and files a Title VII charge.  CutX will prevail because it offered a reasonable accommodation that would eliminate Prakash’s religious conflict with the hygiene rule.


Religious Garb

Nasreen, a Muslim ticket agent for a commercial airline, wears a hijab (headscarf) to work at the airport ticket counter.  After September 11, 2001, her manager objected, telling Nasreen that the customers might think she was sympathetic to terrorist hijackers.  Nasreen explains to her manager that wearing the hijab is her religious practice and continues to wear it.  She is terminated for wearing a hijab over her manager’s objection.  Customer fears or prejudices do not amount to undue hardship.  As a result, the airline’s refusal to accommodate her and its subsequent decision to terminate her violate Title VII.  In addition, if the commercial airline had denied Nasreen the position due to perceptions of customer preferences about religious attire, that would also be disparate treatment based on religion in violation of Title VII, because it would be the same as refusing to hire Nasreen because she is a Muslim.  See supra § 12‑II-B.[287]


Use of Employer Facilities

An employee whose assigned work area is a factory floor rather than an enclosed office asks his supervisor if he may use one of the company’s unoccupied conference rooms to pray during a scheduled break time.  The supervisor must grant this request if it would not pose an undue hardship.  An undue hardship would exist, for example, if the only conference room is used for work meetings at that time.  However, the supervisor is not required to provide the employee with his choice of the available locations and can meet the accommodation obligation by making any appropriate location available that would accommodate the employee’s religious needs if this can be done absent undue hardship, for example by offering an unoccupied area of the work space rather than the conference room.


Display of Religious Objects by an Employee

Susan and Roger are members of the same church and are both employed at XYZ Corporation.  Susan works as an architect in a private office on an upper floor, where she occasionally interacts with coworkers, but not with clients.  Roger is a security guard stationed at a desk in the front lobby of the XYZ building through which all employees, clients, and other visitors must enter.  At a recent service at Susan and Roger’s church, the minister distributed posters with the message “Jesus Saves!” and encouraged parishioners to display the posters at their workplaces in order to “spread the word.”  Susan and Roger each display the poster on the wall above their respective workstations.  XYZ orders both to remove the poster despite the fact that both explained that they felt a religious obligation to display it, and despite the fact that there have been no complaints from coworkers or clients. 

Susan and Roger file charges alleging denial of religious accommodation.  The employer will probably be unable to show that allowing Susan to display a religious message in her personal workspace posed an undue hardship, unless there was evidence of disruption to the business or the workplace which resulted.  By contrast, because Roger sits at the lobby desk and the poster is the first thing that visitors see upon entering the building, it would appear to represent XYZ’s views and would therefore likely be shown to pose an undue hardship.[306]


Undue Hardship to Allow Employee to Discuss Religion with Clients

Helen, an employee in a mental health facility that served a religiously and ethnically diverse clientele, frequently spoke with clients about religious issues and shared religious tracts with them as a way to help solve their problems, despite being instructed not to do so.  After clients complained, Helen’s employer issued her a letter of reprimand stating that she should not promote her religious beliefs to clients and that she would be terminated if she persisted.  Helen’s belief in the need to evangelize to clients cannot be accommodated without undue hardship.  The employer has the right to control speech that threatens to impede provision of effective and efficient services.  Clients, especially in a mental health setting, may not understand that the religious message represents Helen’s beliefs rather than the facility’s view of the most beneficial treatment for the patient.[307]


Prayer at Meetings

Michael’s employer requires that the mandatory weekly staff meeting begin with a religious prayer.  Michael objects to participating because he believes it conflicts with his own sincerely held religious beliefs.  He asks his supervisor to allow him to arrive at the meeting after the prayer.  The supervisor must accommodate Michael’s religious belief by either granting his request or offering an alternative accommodation that would remove the conflict between Michael’s religious belief and the staff meeting prayer, even if other employees of Michael’s religion do not object to being present for the prayer.[311] The outcome would be the same if Michael sought the accommodation based on his lack of religious belief.


Employer Holiday Decorations

Each December, the president of XYZ corporation directs that several wreaths be placed around the office building and a tree be displayed in the lobby.  Several employees complain that to accommodate their non-Christian religious beliefs, the employer should take down the wreaths and tree, or alternatively should add holiday decorations associated with other religions.  Title VII does not require that XYZ corporation remove the wreaths and tree or add holiday decorations associated with other religions.[312]  The result under Title VII on these facts would be the same whether in a private or government workplace.[313]


Religious Objection to Training Program – Employee Must Be Excused

As part of its effort to promote employee health and productivity, the new president of a company institutes weekly mandatory on-site meditation classes led by a local spiritualist.  Angelina explains to her supervisor that the meditation conflicts with her sincerely held religious beliefs and asks to be excused from participating.  Because it would not pose an undue hardship, the company must accommodate Angelina’s religious belief by excusing her from the weekly meditation classes, even if the company and other employees believe that this form of meditation does not conflict with any religious beliefs.


Religious Objection to Training Program – Employee Need Not Be Excused

Employer XYZ holds an annual training for employees on a variety of personnel matters, including compliance with EEO laws and also XYZ’s own internal anti-discrimination policy, which includes a prohibition on sexual orientation discrimination.  Lucille asks to be excused from the portion of the training on sexual orientation discrimination because she believes that it “promotes the acceptance of homosexuality,” which she sincerely believes is immoral and sinful based on her religion.  The training does not tell employees to value different sexual orientations but simply discusses and reinforces laws and conduct rules requiring employees not to discriminate against or harass other employees based on sexual orientation and to treat one another professionally.  Because an employer needs to make sure that its employees know about and comply with such laws and workplace rules, it would be an undue hardship for XYZ to excuse Lucille from the training.[315]


Retaliation for Requesting Accommodation

Jenny requests that she be excused from daily employer-sponsored Christian prayer meetings because she is an atheist.  Her supervisor insists that she attend, but she persists in her request that she should be excused and explains that requiring her to attend is offensive to her religious beliefs.  She takes her request to human resources and informs them that requiring her to attend these prayer meetings is offensive to her religious beliefs.  Despite her supervisor’s objections, the human resources department instructs the supervisor that in the circumstances no undue hardship is posed and he must grant the request.  Motivated by reprisal, her supervisor shortly thereafter gives her an unjustified poor performance rating and denies her requests to attend training that is approved for similarly situated employees.  This retaliation violates Title VII.