Not everyone wears a halo: Courts don’t expect perfect work environment

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in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources

Some employees act like they expect everyone at work to be on their best behavior all the time, never doing or saying anything even mildly offensive. That’s just not realistic.

Recent case: Brenda Thompson, a Christian who attends a fundamentalist church, worked in a cubicle in an open-space office. She didn’t like hearing the sexually oriented talk her co-workers sometimes engaged in because it offended her religious beliefs.

Plus, one co-worker once asked Thompson whether her church was a devil-worshipping cult. At one point, someone drew devil horns and a tail on a photograph a co-worker had in her cubicle.

The office was apparently quite cliquish, and Thompson believed co-workers were excluding her because of her religious beliefs.

Thompson quit and contacted the EEOC. The commission then filed a religious discrimination lawsuit on her behalf, alleging that the company allowed co-workers to engage in talk and behave in ways they knew was religiously offensive to Thompson.

The court tossed out her case. It found that nothing Thompson complained about was serious enough to create a religiously based hostile work environment. (EEOC v. T-N-T Carports, No. 1:09-CV-27, MD NC, 2011)

Final note: In the past few years, the EEOC’s enforcement actions increasingly have focused on workplace religious discrimination. It has issued several guidelines on dealing with a religiously diverse workplace and has encouraged those who believe they have been harassed because of their religious beliefs to file complaints. Learn more at www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/religion.cfm.

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