Last week a district court granted summary judgment on an employee’s religion-based hostile work environment claim. This case is quite interesting, in that the gravamen of the plaintiff’s claim was that the employer engaged in too much accommodation of a fellow employee’s Muslim religion. We know that employers have a duty to provide reasonable accommodations based on religious beliefs. What if employers also had to worry about their accommodations offending others with different religious beliefs? Employer, meet your next door neighbors, Rock and Hard Place.
Fortunately, the court did not side with the plaintiff in Ross v. Colorado Department of Transportation. The plaintiff, a devout Christian, was deeply offended when a departmental lunch was postponed until after Ramadan (the month of daytime fasting) so that a Muslim employee could attend. He was also offended that said employee took time each day to pray. In rejecting his claims, the court noted that Christianity had not been disparaged. Nor was there any proselytizing. The fact that the plaintiff was at times confronted with religious practices and beliefs that he considered offensive to his own beliefs did not violate Title VII.
I see this type of attitude about accommodations, both religious and disability-related, when I conduct employee training sessions. Employees may look at an employer’s accommodation of another employee as “special treatment.” That is the wrong way to look at accommodations, as the Ross case makes clear. They are legally required (by Title VII and the ADA, respectively). Point this out to employees in training. That way, you hopefully will not have to deal with these kinds of claims.