Academic journal article Journal of Business and Behavior Sciences

A Hostile Religious Environment: How Hostile Does It Have to Be?

Academic journal article Journal of Business and Behavior Sciences

A Hostile Religious Environment: How Hostile Does It Have to Be?

Article excerpt


A hostile religious environment is an important issue in the workplace. In fact, cases filed with the EEOC over the last decade have more than doubled; this is interesting, given sexual harassment charges decreased during the same period. Few studies have examined the courts' interpretation of the harassment guidelines based on the rules set forth by the Supreme Court in 1998. This article reviews over 150 cases and provides guiding principles and recommendations for practitioners.


Harassment has long been recognized as a violation of the Civil Rights Act under Title VII since the late 1970's (Findley, Dodd-Walker, Vardaman, and He, 2011). In 1980, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) propagated guidelines regulating sexual harassment in the workplace ( While the EEOC harassment guidelines do not explicitly address religion, the courts generally utilize these guidelines when considering religious harassment (Shabestari v. Utah Non-Profit Housing, 2010; William v. Arrow Chevrolet, 2005).

For various reasons, interest in religion has been growing over the last decade, and the effects of this movement are spilling over into the workplace (Lanham, 2010). This is not surprising, given there are more than 1500 religions in the United States, and only 900 being Christian-based (Findley, Ingram, and Amsler, 2001). Correspondingly, over the last 13 years, religious harassment charges with the EEOC have risen 122%, while the more popular sexual harassment issue from a media and scholarly perspective decreased 26% (EEOC, 2009).

Contrary to extant trends little academic attention has been directed at court interpretations of the harassment guidelines from a religious perspective. Given that religious harassment litigation is exhibiting such a dramatic rise, is a highly charged emotional issue, and is costly to organizations, it would be useful to review the recent case law interpreting the EEOC regulations on the subject. In particular, the review should focus on the area where there is the most confusion and litigation-hostile environment (Findley, et. al, 2011). To that end, a LEXISNEXIS key word search was conducted that yielded over 150 cases since the Supreme Court set forth its hostile environment guidelines in Faragher v. City of Boca Raton (1998). Over 50 usable cases were identified and examined for guiding principles as to the circumstances that constitute a hostile religious workplace. Cases cited are representative or highlight special issues/circumstances that assist in determining the hostile environment threshold. Recommendations for administrators and legislators are provided.


Religious harassment maxims have been extracted from the sexual harassment guidelines issued by the EEOC in 1980 (

Sexual harassment is defined under the EEOC guidelines as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature...when (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual^ employment, (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individuals work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment" (

It is the third prong of this definition that deals with hostile environment cases as it relates to religious harassment and is the subject of this article.

The Supreme Court has upheld the EEOC guidelines (Meritor Savings v. Vinson, 1986) and distinguished between quid pro quo and hostile environment claims. , In Faragher v. City of Boca Raton (1998), the Supreme Court summarized the factors from several other Supreme Court decisions (Harris v. Forklift Systems, 1993; Meritor Savings v. …

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