Refusal to Hire Employee who is not Christian Enough is Illegal

Typically, religious discrimination cases arise from employer refusals to accommodate religious observance.  A recent settlement reported by the EEOC sheds light on a different kind of discrimination – an employer who refuses to hire a qualified applicant because the applicant’s religious beliefs are not strong enough.

Here is what happened: The employer advertised an open position on a church website. Although the applicant did not belong to the church, he saw the vacancy and submitted an application. During an initial meeting between the supervisor of the employer, who belonged to the church, and the applicant, the supervisor asked questions about the applicant’s religious beliefs and practices. The supervisor then submitted the religious information, rather than the applicant’s resume, to management. When the applicant was interviewed, the interviewer asked him to identify every church he had attended, whether he was “saved,” and if he would have a problem coming to work early to attend Bible study before clocking in. The applicant answered the questions truthfully, to the obvious dissatisfaction of the interviewer, and did not get the job – although he was qualified and there were no other viable candidates.

The EEOC sued the employer on the grounds that the applicant was not hired because of his religious beliefs. On March 19, 2013, the employer settled with the EEOC at a cost of more than $80,000.

For employers, this settlement is a reminder that employers cannot refuse to hire a qualified applicant because the applicant’s religious beliefs do not comport with those of the employer’s management. It is also a reminder that discrimination on the basis of religion can be based on an employee’s beliefs, or on an employee’s lack of belief.

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