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What Constitutes Religious Discrimination in the Workplace?


The current definition of religious discrimination in the workplace is anchored to the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.(1) The term religion is defined as “all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief.”

Broad Definitions

The Civil Rights Act encompasses not just employers, but also employment agencies, labor unions, and other affiliated organizations. The first and most prominent form of religious discrimination in the workplace is to refuse to hire or promote a candidate because of their personal religious beliefs.(2) But each case must be debated and judged on its own, often complicated merits.

In the case for example of Gaye Christofferson, she alleged that the discrimination occurred very late in her career, when she was 62, and involved a religion not usually associated seen as being one that would lead to such claims.(3) However, the former Soka University of America professor lost her appeal of a decision that judged her Lutheran beliefs did not cause her to lose tenure at the scholastic institution. The university insisted that candidates presented for this particular academic promotion were submitted blindly, with age and religion remaining undisclosed.

Department of Justice Lawsuit

The stakes are often extremely high when it comes to religious discrimination litigation. In March, 2011, the U.S. government took up the case of a Chicago Muslim woman who quit her job when she was refused time off to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. The Civil Rights Act instructs that employers cannot deny such accommodations unless they are financially prohibitive in some way.

However, the 29-year-old middle school teacher, Safoorah Khan, requested a three-week December 2008 absence from her job after one year on the job. In the wake of her quitting so she could make the trip, the U.S. Justice Department has filed a lawsuit on her behalf. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez has stated that his department took on the case to combat the “real headwind of intolerance against Muslim communities.”




(1) U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, Retrieved April 19, 2011 from

(2) Facts About Religious Discrimination, Retrieved April 19, 2011 from

(3) OC Weekly – “Former SOKA University Professor Loses Appeal in Religious Discrimination Case,”: April 18, 2011, Retrieved April 19, 2011 from

(4) Fox News – “Holder Sues So Muslim Can Make Pilgrimage to Mecca”, March 26, 2011, Retrieved April 19, 2011 from

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