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Former NYC ranger’s lawsuit alleges work discrimination for religious practice

Employment discrimination based on an employee’s religious beliefs is illegal under federal, state, and New York City laws. The New York Post reports that a 31-year-old former New York City park ranger has filed a federal lawsuit in Manhattan alleging that he was forced to leave his job after experiencing discrimination in the workplace based on his religious practice.

Reportedly, the ranger’s Eastern Christian Orthodox church requires him to wear a beard, although the rangers do not employees to wear facial hair. The employee alleges that his employer discriminated against him in various ways, including harassing him about his beard, not promoting him, and

changing his work schedule to conflict with Sunday church services.

What are the basic premises of religious discrimination laws?

Unlawful employment discrimination based on religion or creed means that an employer may not treat a job applicant or employee unfavorably in any aspect of employment because of that person’s religion, and may not harass (or allow others in the workplace to harass) an employee for their religious practices The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) explains that the law protects not only people who belong to large, traditional religions, but also those who have other “sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.” So the law reaches broadly to protect even those who hold unpopular or unique religious beliefs.

Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit an employer from retaliating against an employee for reporting religious discrimination.

Reasonably accommodating religious practices in the workplace

The laws against religious discrimination also require that an employer reasonably accommodate religious practices in the workplace if doing so does not place an undue hardship on the employer. Examples of reasonable accommodation might be to allow employees to take their break at a different time or trade shifts so they can pray, attend services, or engage in a practice related to a religious holiday or observance.

Reasonable accommodation also may include making an exception to a work dress code or grooming requirement. For example, an employer could make an accommodation to allow an employee to wear religious clothing like a turban or yarmulke or have facial or long hair like the Eastern Orthodox plaintiff in the recent lawsuit against the park department.

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