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Combating Religious Discrimination And Protecting Religious Freedom

Religious Discrimination in Employment

People should be hired or not hired because of their skills and merit, not because of their faith. And people should not be forced to choose between their faiths and their jobs.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in public and private employment. It also requires employers to make reasonable accommodation of employees' religious observances and practices, unless doing so would cause the employer undue hardship. The Civil Rights Division has responsibility for bringing suits under Title VII against state and local governmental employers. Under § 706 of Title VII, individual cases of discrimination against state and local governmental entities must be filed in the first instance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which can refer cases to the Civil Rights Division. The Civil Rights Division then opens a supplemental investigation, if warranted, to determine if a lawsuit is appropriate. When a pattern or practice of discrimination by a governmental entity is alleged, the Civil Rights Division may file suit on its own volition under § 707 of Title VII.

Recent Cases:

  • Oregon School Teachers: In October 2009, the Civil Rights Division launched an investigation of the State of Oregon over a law, dating to the 1920’s, that barred public school teachers from wearing religious clothing. In April 2010, the Division closed its investigation after the governor signed a bill overturning the no-religious-garb law. The full story of the Division's investigation is recounted in Fulfilling the Promise on the Justice Blog.
  • United States v. New York Metropolitan Transit Authority: The Civil Rights Division filed suit against the NY MTA alleging that it has discriminated against Muslim and Sikh bus and subway drivers by refusing to permit them to wear headscarves and turbans. The suit alleges that the Muslim and Sikh drivers were forbidden to wear these religious headcoverings with their uniforms, while other MTA workers were allowed to wear non-regulation headgear, such as baseball caps, without penalty. The case is pending.
  • United States v. Essex County: The Civil Rights Division filed suit in June 2009 against Essex County, New Jersey, alleging that it discriminated against a Muslim corrections officer in violation of Title VII when it refused to allow her to wear a religiously mandated headscarf. The United States’ complaint alleges that the Essex County Department of Corrections first suspended the officer, then terminated her, for wearing her headscarf, and that the County failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation to its uniform policy. The case is ongoing.
  • United States v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority: In February 2009, the Civil Rights Division obtained a consent decree in a Title VII case brought against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) on behalf of two Muslim women and a Pentecostal woman who had been refused reasonable accommodations to the uniform requirement for bus drivers. The Muslim women had sought an accommodation to wear headscarves, and the Pentecostal woman sought an accommodation to be allowed to wear skirts or culottes with her uniform instead of pants.
  • United States v. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority: The Civil Rights Division filed suit against the LA MTA over its policy of refusing to accept bus driver applications unless the applicant indicated that he or she was available to work 24 hours per day, seven days a week. The suit alleged that this policy discriminated against Sabbath-observant Jews and Christians and others who refrain from work on certain days for religious reasons, by failing to make any effort to provide them with the religious accommodation Title VII requires. The Civil Rights Division reached a consent decree that requires the MTA to accept the applications of Sabbath-observant applicants; provide applicants with information about their accommodation rights; permit drivers to swap assignments with other drivers, and when no acceptable assignment is possible either through use of seniority rights or swaps, permit drivers to take temporary leaves of absence; and provide information about religious accommodation in marketing literature and in its training programs for supervisors. View the press release.
  • Baker v. The Home Depot: The Civil Rights Division filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, arguing that offering an employee only the morning off to attend worship services on the Sabbath was not a reasonable accommodation under Title VII when the employee's faith required refraining from work altogether on the Sabbath. The court of appeals agreed on April 19, 2006, and remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether permitting the employee to refrain from work on the Sabbath would be an undue hardship for the defendant.

Information on filing a complaint for religious discrimination in employment is available here.


Updated May 31, 2023