Requesting religious accommodation isn’t protected, but that doesn’t kill lawsuit

Employees who engage in so-called protected activity under Title VII cannot be retaliated against for doing so.

But the definition of protected activity is narrow. Protected activity is “opposing an unlawful employment practice or making a charge, testifying, or participating in an investigation or other proceeding under Title VII.” Merely asking for an accommodation doesn’t fit that definition.

Recent case: A group of Muslim employees of a temp agency were assigned to work at a UPS facility. They were permitted to take periodic prayer breaks during the workday. Then a new supervisor arrived and declared he wanted to fire anyone who took prayer breaks.

Several Muslim workers then requested breaks as a religious accommodation. Later, they were fired.

They filed a lawsuit, alleging that they had suffered retaliation for engaging in the protected activity of requesting prayer breaks.

The court dismissed their claim, reasoning that the request just didn’t fit Title VII’s definition of protected activity. Asking for an accommodation doesn’t qualify as an action opposing an unlawful practice. Reason: By definition, the accommodation request had not yet been turned down. (Dahir et al. v. UPS Mail Innovations et al., DC MN, 2017)

Final note: While the men lost on their retaliation claim, their allegation that at least one of their joint employers discriminated against them because of their religion moves forward. That claim is based on their discharge after being denied the right to pray as prescribed by their religion.