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© 2014 Zuckerman Spaeder LLP

Showing 7 posts in Religious Discrimination‎.

The Buddhist, The Bible, And Morning Coffee

Did you hear the one about the Buddhist marketing director who refused an order to add Bible verses to the daily morning e-mail he sent to all employees – and then got fired the next day, after an otherwise successful eight-year career?

This is, of course, not an opening line to a joke, but another installment in our occasional series about the intersection of religious beliefs (of all types) and employment – also of all types.  Religion and employment issues – whether it’s an employee in the C-suite or someone further along the hierarchy – almost never mix well.  Just this week, of course, nine of our fellow lawyers who happen to sit on the Supreme Court are hearing arguments in two cases about whether a company with a religious belief about contraception is exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s requirements for employer-provided health insurance. 

Far away from the hallowed marble home of the Supreme Court (which, by the way, we think is in a fine building -- unlike former Justice Harlan Fiske Stone) and down in the Eastern District of Texas, a new suit raises an interesting question of prohibited religious discrimination under Title VII: namely, can a fired Buddhist employee win damages from a company that, he says, fired him after eight years because he refused to put Bible quotations in the daily e-mail his employer had him write and send to all of the company’s 500 employees?  Read More ›

The Inbox - February 1, 2013

Before you root, root, root for the Ravens in Superbowl XLVII; before you go pick up with that 100-piece platter of buffalo wings; before you even crack open a single cold one, you owe it to yourself to read this week's super-sized Inbox:

  • A California appellate court reversed a trial court verdict for Julie Gilman Veronese, which had awarded her $1.3 million in damages against her former employer, Lucasfilm Ltd., which had terminated Ms. Veronese upon finding that she was pregnant out of claimed "concern for the health of the fetus."  Veronese has appealed to the California Supreme Court, which has 60 days to decide whether or not to take the case.  We'll be watching.
  • A Florida appellate court has sought the guidance of the Florida Supreme Court as to whether a judge must recuse himself from cases in which he is "Facebook friends" with the prosecutor.
  • In a story that's near and dear to us here at Suits by Suits, Martha Neil of the ABA Journal has written a short article collecting stories under the banner "When can workers be fired for Facebook posts and tweets?"   As you may know, we've had quite a lot to say on the subject; see our Facebook-related posts here, here, here, here, and here, just for starters.
  • A New York state court judge has dismissed a wrongful termination suit filed by an employee of an agency of the United Methodist Church under the so-called "ministerial exception," ruling that to adjudicate the dispute would require him as a judge to interpret the denomination's religious code of conduct and thus violate the First Amendment.  The employee, Douglas Mills, had argued that his role was "primarily secular" in terms of promoting interfaith dialogue with other churches; the Court held that "even if Mills performed primarily secular duties, the ministerial exception will apply if his job duties reflected a role in conveying the church's message and carrying out its mission."
  • It isn't all good news for churches, though; the St. Louis-based Truth in the World Deliverance Ministries Church found itself rather uncomfortably in the news this week after its pastor, Alois Bell, scratched out a tip at a local Applebee's, writing "I give God 10%, why do you get 18?" and replacing the six-dollar tip with $0.  How do we know that Pastor Bell did such a thing?  Because another waitress, outraged and insulted at the lack of a tip, snapped a photo of the receipt and posted it to the online site reddit.  The receipt went viral and Pastor Bell was shamed; unfortunately, the waitress who posted it was fired.
  • If a $6 tip strikes you as extravagant, how about a $13 million one?  After having negotiated a $3.3 billion deal to sell off several of grocery and retail giant Supervalu's brands, outgoing CEO Wayne Sales will receive a $12.8 million severance package (a "golden parachute") before being replaced by Sam Duncan at some point in the first quarter of 2013, according to Supervalu's SEC filings.  Sales earns his golden parachute after a mere six months on the job.
  • A federal judge in Washington, D.C. dismissed a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by former law professor Stephanie Brown against U.D.C.'s David A. Clarke School of Law, arguing that she had been improperly denied tenure in violation of the school's faculty handbook, as well as fired on the basis of race and gender.  The court determined that the handbook was not a binding contract and that Prof. Brown had presented insufficient evidence of race and gender discrimination.
  • Finally, Robert Grattan of the Austin Business Journal penned two articles on covenants not to compete:  "Keys to a good noncompete contract," and "Who reads those noncompete contracts?  Not enough."

Not To Preach, But Religion In The Workplace Continues To Cause Disputes

Ah, religion. 

Whatever good it may – or may not – do for humankind is a subject for theological, philosophical, or old-fashioned barroom debate, not for this blog.  Nor do we opine on the multiple varieties of religious faith.   

We do, however, have to come across religion quite often when we’re writing about disputes between employers and employees.  Religion in the workplace makes things hotter than last year itself.  That heat, of course, leads to disputes that often find their way into courtrooms. 

When we write about religion, we’re really writing about the tension the exercise of religious beliefs or practices can cause in hiring and in the workplace.  Two recent cases showcase this tension and how religious belief in one case, and the lack of it in another, led to disputes.  Taken together, and setting the merits of the individual cases aside, the cases suggest conduct that employees and employers may want to avoid if they want to avoid these sorts of problems.  Read More ›

California raises standard on religious clothing, hairstyles; also, UVA failed coup revisited

Two quick news notes from the broader employment law world: Governor Jerry Brown of California has signed into law a bill that creates a higher bar for employers that would move employees wearing clothing or hairstyles based on religious beliefs – such as turbans or hijabs – out of public workspaces and into back rooms.  The new law will require employers to show an undue hardship, essentially a particular difficulty or expense, to accommodate those employees.   It's clearly a response to a lawsuit involving this exact issue and Disneyland --  which colleague Andrew Torrez covered here

And from the New York Times Magazine comes this great article with the fitting headline “How Not To Fire A College President,” about the attempted ouster of University of Virginia President Theresa Sullivan.  Perhaps the key takeaway from this cavalier move: when planning to remove a liked and respected C-level executive, try to get leaders of affected constituencies within the organization to buy in before the ouster

Religious Accommodation Under Title VII: Is It The Happiest Place On Earth If You Can’t Wear Your Hijab?

We continue our examination of the many things today's CEOs need to keep in mind -- things they may not have taught in business school.  Today, it's the sometimes hot-button issue of the role of religion in the workplace, this time with a look at a recently-filed lawsuit that’s drawn considerable public attention.  (See also here and here.)

Now, most businesses have some sort of dress code, including Zuckerman Spaeder.  When a company’s employees routinely interact with customers and the public – say, a retail store or restaurant – many employers go beyond a simple dress code in an effort to establish a company-wide uniform “look.”  Perhaps no place on earth goes quite as far as Disneyland, where employees are considered “cast members” and – even when not dressed as a giant cartoon mouse – are asked to reflect certain “themes” throughout the park.

So what happens when one of those “cast members,” a young Muslim woman working as a hostess at a Disney café, requests the right to wear a hijab, the traditional Muslim headscarf? Read More ›

Religious Institutions + Federal Law + Federal Funds For Social Programs + Disabled Job Applicant = Litigation

Here’s another post in our occasional series on religious discrimination in the workplace.  Today, we’re looking at a decision by the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that brings together three different concepts: religious organizations as employers, disabled persons as employees, and federal laws that apply to hiring.  As when you mix any three ingredients that are fine on their own, the results can be disastrous.  Throw in legislative history – the record Congress creates when it writes a law, and which some courts look to for guidance on how to interpret that law – and you have one fine mess.  Read More ›

Saints, Sinners, and Job Interviews

If you’ve had any sort of a working life, then you’ve been asked at least one odd question on a job interview.  My personal favorite is why manhole covers are round. [1]  But the oddest interview question I’ve ever been asked was: “Who was Saint Thomas Aquinas?”  In my panic and surprise, my mind confused its files labeled “English Religious leaders named Thomas from the Middle Ages,” and I described for my interviewer Sir Thomas More.  My interviewer – a leading lawyer at a very prestigious New York firm – sat silently for a moment, and then lectured me on how I apparently didn’t have the liberal arts background necessary to work at his firm. 

Setting aside how happy I am, in retrospect, that I didn’t wind up working for someone who would grill me about medieval history, it is rare that any job interview question involves saints or other facets of religious belief.  Most employers don’t delve into that subject with candidates – either they don’t care to inquire, or they don’t believe religion (or lack of it) has any bearing on the quality of an employee’s work.  Read More ›