Employment discrimination occurs when an employee, or potential employee, is treated less favorably than other similar employees solely based on certain characteristics that they possess. These characteristics or backgrounds are ones that are protected by law, and may include their:
- Gender or gender presentation;
- Religion; and/or
- Disability, among other categories.
Employment discrimination can also happen when one group of employees are treated better than another group, once again based solely on protected classes or categories which are defined by various laws. An example of this would be when one group of workers clearly receives benefits that are denied to others on the basis of their sex, when both groups have similar work responsibilities and abilities.
Such discrimination most commonly occurs when a person is already hired; however, it can also happen when a person is still seeking employment. An example of this would be when a person is not hired solely because they are of a certain religion, and not because they are not qualified for the job.
There are various state and federal laws making it illegal to discriminate against an employee. Some of the more significant laws involving employment discrimination include:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: This is a federal anti-discrimination act that makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, and/or national origin. The Act applies to both private employers as well as those in local, state, and federal governments;
- The Equal Pay Act (“EPA”): The EPA protects employees against gender discrimination. More specifically, the Act provides that employees of different genders should be paid equally, if they are doing equal work;
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”): The ADEA provides protection from discrimination for employers who are aged 40 and older. The Act addresses specific circumstances, such as being forced to retire based on age alone;
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”): Similar to other anti-discrimination laws, this Act prohibits discrimination against a person based on their disability status. It also addresses other aspects of employment, such as providing reasonable accommodations for disabled employees;
- The Immigration Reform and Control Act (“IRCA”): The IRCA imposes various requirements on employers in association with employees’ immgiration status. An example of this would be how the Act addresses when and how an employer should verify the employment eligibility of workers; and
- The Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”): The FMLA is a federal law governing how employees can take unpaid medical leave. Among other provisions, it provides protection against being terminated while on a legitimate or approved medical leave.
How Is Religion Legally Addressed In Employment?
It is acceptable for an employer to express their religious beliefs in the workplace to an employee, within certain limits. The employer must ensure that their employees understand that they do not have to adopt their employer’s religious beliefs in order to keep their jobs, or be promoted. Another restriction is that an employer cannot keep proselytizing to an employee if the employee requests the employer not to do so, as this could be considered harassment.
If an employer is a “religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society,” they are allowed an exception to consider religion in their hiring practices. An example of this would be how a Christian church or school may legally choose to hire only Christian teachers, and thus discriminate against applicants from other religious backgrounds.
Additionally, these employers may terminate their employees for violating tenets of the religion. However, if the employer has more than 15 total employees, they may not discriminate based on other protected grounds, such as race or age.
It is important to note that not all religion-based employers can claim an exception to the general rules about religious discrimination. This is because the purpose and character of the organization must be primarily religious. Several factors may be considered when determining whether an employer can be considered primarily religious, including:
- Do its articles of incorporation state a religious purpose?
- Are its day-to-day operations religious in nature?
- Is it not-for-profit?
- Is it affiliated with or supported by a church or other religious organization?
What Is Islam Employment Discrimination?
A phobia is defined as an exaggerated, generally inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation. Islamophobia is the irrational fear of those that believe in the Islamic faith, namely Muslims.
Islamic employment discrimination, also known as Anti-Muslim employment discrimination, is a specific type of illegal religious discrimination. To reiterate, discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee or job applicant differently, or less favorably, for a specific reason other than their fitness for the position. As such, an employer who treats an employee or job applicant less favorably because they are Muslim is committing employment discrimination.
Generally speaking, an employer cannot:
- Ask a job applicant about their religious affiliation;
- Refuse to accommodate a Muslim’s prayer obligations;
- Prohibit hijabs or insist that an employee who observes hijab be segregated from the public; and/or
- Create or permit a hostile or harassing environment based on religious intolerance and Islamophobia.
Whether an employer has any defenses to Islam employment discrimination depends on the facts and circumstances surrounding the case. To reiterate, an employer is permitted to base their hiring decisions only on a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason that is a necessary requirement of a job. This is also known as a bona fide occupational qualification.
It is important to note that an employer does not have to accommodate a religious practice if it would cause undue hardship. An example of this would be causing workplace safety issues.
What Should I Do If I Am Facing Islam Employment Discrimination?
If you are facing an adverse employment action because of your Islamic faith, you have two primary options: filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or filing a civil lawsuit against your employer.
In order to file a formal complaint with EEOC, you must do so within 15 days from the day you received notice from an EEO Counselor instructing how to file a complaint. In your discrimination complaint, you must include the following:
- Your name, address, and telephone number;
- A short description of the events that were discriminatory;
- Why you believe that you were discriminated against; and
- A short description of your injury.
The EEOC will investigate your complaint within 180 days from the day that you filed. After the investigation, you will have the opportunity to either request a hearing before an EEOC Administrative Judge, or ask the agency to issue a decision as to whether discrimination occurred.
If you were the victim of Islam discrimination, you may be entitled to a variety of damages such as:
- Economic damages, generally reimbursement of lost wages and out-of-pocket expenses;
- Non-economic damages, specifically compensation for pain and suffering;
- Job reinstatement; and/or
- Punitive damages, which are damages that punish an employer for especially serious misconduct.
Depending on the federal, state, or municipal law, you could also be entitled to reimbursement of your attorney fees.
Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With Islam Employment Discrimination?
Muslim employment discrimination claims are especially complicated and contentious. If the EEOC is unable to resolve the issue, once they issue a Notice of Right to Sue, you should contact a local lawyer. A local discrimination lawyer can guide you through your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.