It is unlawful to discriminate against employees based on race, religious beliefs or several other characteristics under federal law. When it comes to religious beliefs, employers are also expected to provide a reasonable accommodation, but only for a religious practice or belief that is “sincerely held” and will not cause an undue hardship on the employer. This is true even when a direct request for an accommodation has not been made by the employee. However, not every religious “belief” qualifies for an accommodation and not every action by an employer or co-workers constitutes discrimination.
Recent Claims of Discrimination Against CNN
CNN is certainly no stranger to employment discrimination claims. According to court records, there were at least three lawsuits against the company in one year. One such claim filed in 2017 involved a black Christian employee who alleged that he was subjected to religious harassment and terminated for complaining about a co-worker’s racist comments. His claims are an example of the type of borderline claim that may or may not be considered severe enough to constitute either type of discrimination.
The former CNN employee (Omar Butcher) complained that a former CNN host made the following statement on air about African Americans: “Have we lost a generation? Is there an entire generation out there that cannot be changed, that cannot be reached, they just have to age and die?” Butcher felt that the statement was racist and told the host how he felt. She responded by emailing the employee’s supervisors and told them Butcher had accused her of being racist. The next day, Butcher was fired.
Butcher Also Made Claims of Religious Discrimination
In addition to his termination claim, Butcher alleged that, as a devout Christian, “he was offended by the use of profanity by other staffers, including terms regarding God and Jesus Christ.” He also complained that they frequently used profanity in the newsroom which offended him as well. When he asked his co-workers to stop making the comments, he was not only ignored but some co-workers increased their use of the comments.
Cursing and Offensive Language May Not Be Legally Hostile
As employment attorneys recognize, offensive comments or conduct about which an employee complains must be sufficiently “severe or pervasive” toward protected employees in order to be actionable. Consequently, cursing in the workplace (by itself) does not usually meet that criterion. The most important thing to remember about hostile work environment claims is that a single act of harassment can be sufficient, but only if that one act is sufficiently severe.
In order to successfully bring a claim for workplace harassment, it “must be severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.” That means, “petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality.” The claims brought by this former CNN employee likely do not rise to this level.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Michel | King . You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!