Preach secular management: Train supervisors to shun religious bias

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Hiring,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

When a city-run youth program hired Cheryl Campos as a counselor, it promised her a $10,000 bonus for support-group work as well as a promotion to assistant director within six months.

Things changed after Campos told her supervisor that she followed Native American spiritual beliefs. Her supervisor began to treat her differently and started implying that she wasn't a good fit for the job, Campos claimed.

While Campos received positive work evaluations, the promised bonus and promotion never materialized. Asked why, her supervisor said that people "sometimes had to give up the things they need most in order to be a good Christian." Campos also was taken off counseling assignments because of her refusal to use Bible scripture.

Alleging religious discrimination, Campos resigned and sued for constructive discharge. A jury sided with her and awarded her $79,200. A federal appeals court agreed.

To prove constructive discharge, an employee must show a company deliberately allowed working conditions to become so intolerable that there was no choice other than resignation. The court said this employer should have foreseen Campos' resignation as a consequence of the supervisor's actions, and that there was enough evidence to suggest the supervisor wanted to replace Campos with a Christian employee. (Campos v. City of Blue Springs, Missouri, No. 01-2814, 8th Cir., 2002)

Advice: Don't offer opinions on employees' religious practices and never use them as the basis of an employment decision. Your company can be held liable for a supervisor's hostility toward an employee based on religious beliefs.

Your best protection from bias charges is to train managers to treat every employee with respect, to value diversity and apply company policies and procedures consistently.

If this employer was a church-based counseling center, it could hire on the basis of religious beliefs. But Campos' employer was the city, where religious-based hiring is a legal sin.

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