Can you believe that, in 2015, there are still some people engaging in witch hunts? Instead of Salem, Massachusetts, Fort Meade, Maryland is the site of, what seems to be, genuine religious persecution. A dental tech, who was working by contract with the U.S. Air Force, was terminated because of her religious beliefs. But, the accusations that led to her termination might surprise you.
A literal witch hunt alleged in Maryland
Deborah Schoenfeld, a Hindu, was accused by her co-workers of being satanic and practicing witchcraft because she practiced yoga and meditation. Sounds outrageous? Some of her colleagues told her they would pray for her because meditation was "a dark art that can summon demons." Other dental techs indicated that they were "deeply suspicious" of Hinduism and referred to Schoenfeld as a "Hindu witch." She was further accused of having interest in Wicca, and "bringing demons into the office." Schoenfeld lodged a formal complaint against her deeply Christian colleagues, asserting religion-based harassment and discrimination, but was terminated the same day, allegedly for using profanity toward a co-worker.
Increase in religious discrimination complaints
According to statistics reported by the EEOC, workplace religious discrimination is on the rise. As a result, the EEOC has stated that it will continue to target employers who enforce policies and practices discouraging employees from exercising their religious rights. In addition to denying religious accommodations, such as grooming practices and attire, federal law also prohibits other types of discriminatory actions by employers. These types of actions include adverse employment actions (e.g., hiring, firing, promotion, pay, benefits, assignments, and any other term or condition of employment), and harassment or hostile work environment based on religion.
When can an employer's decision making be based on religion?
Although Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on religious affiliation or beliefs, there are a few specific situations where exceptions are allowed. A specifically defined "religious organization" or "religious educational institution" is generally exempt from certain religious discrimination provisions. Qualified religious organizations are allowed to act upon the preferences of members of their own religion, as long as that employer's "purpose and character are primarily religious." Also, there is a "ministerial exception" that bars Title VII claims by employees who work in clergy roles.
If you feel you have been the victim of religious discrimination, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment attorneys at Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.