Hostile Work Environment—Religious Discrimination

Religious discrimination is often misunderstood. While it can include a company refusing to hire someone due to his or her religion, that is far from the only type of religious discrimination that exists. It can be religious discrimination to refuse to make reasonable accommodations for religious observances under certain circumstances. It can also be unlawful discrimination to create and foster a hostile work environment. This is unlawful because religion is a protected class.

What is a “Protected Class?”

Protected classes are groups of people who are legally protected from discrimination based on their membership in the protected class. Protected classes include race, ethnicity, religion, sex, age for people age 40 or older, and disability. Sexual orientation and transgender status are considered protected classes under some laws, but they are not explicitly covered by the federal employment discrimination laws. Protected class status matters because in order for discrimination laws to apply to you, you have to be a member of a class. Religion is a protected class, so religious discrimination is unlawful.

Protected Class Membership is Not Enough

Hostile work environment claims are really a specific type of harassment claim. Harassment claims are covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes harassment a form of illegal employment discrimination.

If you are harassed because of your religion, then the harassment will be illegal if the other requirements of the Civil Rights Act are met. There are two types of illegal harassment under the act:

  1. Harassment becomes unlawful if enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment;
  2. Harassment becomes unlawful if the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Small slights or annoyances are not enough to make harassment unlawful. Additionally, isolated incidents are not enough unless it is extremely serious. Thus, one joke about your religion does not constitute a hostile work environment. However, repeated offensive jokes, use of slurs, threats, ridicule, or mockery is illegal. The key is that to be illegal, these behaviors must be:

  1.             Severe
  2.             Recurring; and
  3.             Pervasive.

Religious Discrimination Under Oregon Law

Oregon Law also protects you against religious discrimination. Oregon Revised Statute 659A.030 is the law that makes religious discrimination illegal in our state. While the state statute does not specifically protect you from a hostile work environment, it does protect you against retaliation for filing a federal claim. If you made a federal claim that there is a hostile work environment, and as a result your boss fires you or demotes you or gives you a negative performance review, you may also have a state claim.

Give Us a Call for Help

The deadlines are very strict in this type of case. If you are experiencing a hostile work environment because of your religion, you should call (503) 398-1130 or fill out our simple online form. We here at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP are trained and experienced employment law attorneys and we are excited to discuss your case and determine if we can be of help.