On June 29, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a rare unanimous ruling in Groff v. DeJoy, and set a higher standard for employers to meet when denying religious accommodations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). Prior to Groff, employers were free to deny a religious accommodation where it imposed “more than a de minimis cost” on the employer’s business. Following Groff, however, employers must now show that the burden of granting a religious accommodation “would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.” This case has implications for all employers evaluating employee requests for religious accommodations, and should be carefully considered when granting or denying such requests.Continue Reading Supreme Court Raises the Bar for Title VII Religious Accommodations
On March 31, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) rescinded a Trump Administration rule that provided a faith-based carve-out exempting federal contractors from compliance with certain anti-discrimination obligations. Federal law has long recognized a religious exemption to anti-discrimination obligations for federal contractors. The Trump Administration rule, which went into effect on January 8, 2021, expanded this faith-based carve-out. The rescission of the 2021 rule, which was published in the Federal Register on March 1, returns OFCCP to its pre-2021 religious exemption rule.Continue Reading Rescinding a Lame Duck Trump Administration Rule, DOL Returns to Its Longstanding Policy on Religious Exemptions for Federal Contractors
On October 25, 2021, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) expanded its prior guidance “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws” to include recommendations for employers who receive religious objections from employees in response to the employer’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy. Specifically, the EEOC added section L to its prior guidance, which addresses specific questions relating to religious objections. The newly added questions are set forth below. All employers should review and familiarize themselves with this guidance as they continue to face objections and accommodation requests from employees with respect to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Continue Reading EEOC Publishes New Guidance Regarding Objections to COVID-19 Vaccines Based Upon Employee Religious Beliefs
On July 8, 2020, the Supreme Court gave religious employers wide leeway to hire and fire employees whose duties include religious instruction without having to worry about employment discrimination suits. In a 7-to-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru that the “ministerial exception” – a legal doctrine that shields religious employers from anti-discrimination lawsuits – foreclosed the adjudication of two discrimination lawsuits brought by Catholic school teachers.
Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Backs Broad Interpretation of the “Ministerial Exception,” Shielding Religious Employers From Employment Discrimination Claims
Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander? Not necessarily. The Ninth Circuit and California Court of Appeals recently decided two cases that substantially limit the scope and application of freedom of religion rights rooted in the U.S. Constitution. Together, these cases narrow the definition of the term “minister,” and expand the spectrum of employment law claims which may be brought against a religious employer. This new interpretation of freedom of religion rights may be difficult to reconcile with existing law from the U.S. Supreme Court which bars a minister from bringing employment discrimination claims against a religious employer.
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit and California Court of Appeals Rule on Freedom of Religion Rights
This year the California Legislature added over a dozen new employment laws, many of which take effect on January 1, 2016. Some of these laws impose new prohibitions on employers, while others provide positive benefits such as safe harbors, cure provisions, and employer incentives for reclassification of certain independent contractors. This update highlights key provisions in some of the new laws taking effect January 1, 2016. Links to the statutes are provided.
Continue Reading New Year, New Rules For Employers Doing Business in California
On Monday, June 1, 2015, the United States Supreme Court reversed a judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit which had granted Abercrombie & Fitch (“Abercrombie”) summary judgment in a religious accommodation case brought by a job applicant who wore a headscarf (a hijab) to an interview, but did not mention her religion or request an exception to Abercrombie’s dress code. The Court’s 8-1 decision in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. rejected the Tenth Circuit’s holding that, to prove discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”), it is an applicant’s burden to advise an employer of a religious practice necessitating accommodation. Instead, the Court found that a job applicant need only demonstrate that a prospective employer’s desire to avoid providing a religious accommodation was a motivating factor in its decision not to hire, not that the employer actually knew of the need for an accommodation.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Sides with EEOC in Abercrombie & Fitch Hijab Case
On January 14, 2015, in a case of first impression, the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department held that an employee can sufficiently demonstrate his membership in a protected class by virtue of his association with another person – in this case, his wife. In Jeffrey Chiara v. Town of New Castle, 2015 Slip Op. 00326 (2d Dep’t Jan. 14, 2015), the Second Department held that Chiara could show he was discriminated against by the Town of New Castle based on religion as a result of his marriage to a Jewish person, even though he was not Jewish himself. In so holding, the Second Department reversed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment to the Town with respect to Chiara’s claim that he was subject to religious discrimination when he was terminated.
Continue Reading Appellate Division Panel Issues Ruling Broadly Interpreting New York State Human Rights Law
On June 30, 2014, the US Supreme Court decided the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. in a 5-4 decision along partisan lines. The Court ruled that closely held, for-profit companies are entitled to certain religious freedom protections from generally applicable regulations that violate the sincerely held religious beliefs of their owners. Specifically, the majority held that such companies are exempt from the requirement under the Affordable Care Act (the “ACA” a/k/a Obamacare) to provide birth control coverage for their employees.
Continue Reading The Supreme Court’s Ruling in Hobby Lobby that Closely Held, For-Profit Companies Should Receive Religious Exemptions From ObamaCare’s Conception Mandate Likely Will Have Little Practical Impact Immediately in the Employment Arena
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) recently announced new guidelines that may impact the way employers conduct background checks and accommodate religious dress and grooming practices.
Continue Reading New EEOC Guidelines Regarding Employers’ Obligations With Respect to Background Checks and Accommodation of Religious Dress and Grooming Practices
In an effort to satisfy customers and maintain a desired company image, many employers have dress and grooming policies. As a general rule, employers are legally allowed to establish reasonable dress and grooming requirements that serve legitimate business interests. However, two recent cases remind employers that there are limits on what grooming standards employers can impose on employees.Continue Reading Dress and Grooming Policies in the Workplace