Academic journal article The Journal of Law in Society

Conscience Clauses, Title VII and the Religious Right of Refusal to Performing Tasks in the Workplace

Academic journal article The Journal of Law in Society

Conscience Clauses, Title VII and the Religious Right of Refusal to Performing Tasks in the Workplace

Article excerpt


Religion is one of the most controversial and difficult topics for employers and employees to tackle. (1) Because our society has become so diverse and religiously pluralistic, discrimination rates are growing at a rapid pace. (2) According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (hereinafter "EEOC"), as of 2012 religion based charges have gone up approximately 41% since 1997. (3) In 2014, there were 3,549 charges filed under Title VII alleging religion-based discrimination. (4) While the number of religion-based discrimination charges filed in 2014 (3,549) has slightly declined from the number filed in 2011 (4,151), (5) religious discrimination in the workplace remains a prevalent issue.

One theory as to why there has been an increase in tension between work and religion involves the attacks of September 11, 2001. (6) Since then, Muslim complaints of discrimination in the workplace have risen significantly. (7) But even before the September 11 attacks there was a rise in religious discrimination claims. This was in part due to growing participation in religious activities. (8) According to a Gallup poll over 90% of respondents stated that religion is important to them. (9) Additionally, as mentioned earlier, religious diversity has increased. (10) According to a survey done between the years 1990 and 2001, growth in the United States can be seen amongst religious groups such as Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. (11) As the growth of religious diversity in the United States increases, conflict between employers and employees is bound to occur. (12)

Within the last year, there have been several notable cases of religious discrimination that have made national headlines. A fraction of these cases have involved Muslim employees declining to fulfill particular tasks in the workplace citing their religious beliefs as preventing them from completing said tasks. One case involved a Muslim flight attendant for ExpressJet Airlines, Ms. Charee Stanley, who claims she was suspended from her job because she refused to serve alcohol, a practice that is against her religious beliefs. (13) Ms. Stanley filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC stating that she desired to go back to performing her job without selling alcohol. (14) According to her attorney, Ms. Stanley had not been serving alcohol prior to her suspension due to a religious accommodation she had come to with ExpressJet when she first notified the company of her religious beliefs. (15) The accommodation required Ms. Stanley to make arrangements with her co-flight attendants on how to serve alcohol to customers aboard ExpressJet flights. (16)

Another recent case involved two Muslim men who were fired from Star Transport, Inc., an Illinois trucking company, after refusing to deliver alcohol. (17) According to the lawsuit, Star Transport refused to provide an accommodation to the men, instead terminating their employment. (18) United States District Court Judge James E. Shadid ruled in favor of the two men at which point a jury was convened to determine the extent of the damages. (19) The jury awarded $240,000 in damages to the plaintiffs. (20)

Not every case has returned a verdict in favor of those plaintiffs alleging a failure to provide an accommodation, however. One specific example that acquired national attention involved a clash between a group of Somali Muslim taxi drivers and the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. (21) The Muslim drivers had been interpreting the Koranic prohibitions on carrying alcohol to include driving passengers transporting alcohol from the airport to their destination. (22) Those drivers asked the MAC to provide them with a religious accommodation. (23) (One specific proposal would have placed distinctive lights on the roof of taxis that would not transport alcohol. This proposal was initially accepted but later overturned due to the public backlash the idea received). …

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