Unlike several other forms of discrimination—such as discrimination based on perceived disability—being mistaken for a member of a religious group and then being discriminated against based on that mistaken association isn’t illegal.
Recent case: Social worker Darren Lewis claimed he lost his job because his supervisors wrongly believed he was Muslim. (Lewis changed his name from Serh Talmadge Fardi Efe after he was fired.)
On the other hand, his employer said he was fired because he never received his social worker license. (He kept failing the test.)
The court dismissed Lewis’ discrimination lawsuit. It said employees can’t sue for their employer’s mistaken belief they belong to a particular religion. The employee must actually belong to the protected class to have a case. (Lewis v. North General Hospital, No. 06-CV-4909, SD NY, 2007)
Caution: Discriminating against employees believed to be disabled (even if they are not) is illegal under the ADA. Similarly, the EEOC takes the position that discrimination based on speech, style of dress or mannerisms associated with persons from particular countries is national-origin discrimination. Had Lewis argued he was being discriminated against because his employer thought he was from a Muslim country, the case might have turned out differently.
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