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By December 1, 2010No Comments

In Mitchell v. University Medical Center, Inc., the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky addressed a sensitive issue: The tension between an employer’s need to maintain a professional, harassment-free workplace and an employee’s right to voice her personal religious conviction on the job. The plaintiff, a staff nurse at the University Medical Center hospital, was a devout Christian. Based on her readings of the Bible, she believed that she had calculated the date for the end of the world or the coming of the Antichrist. She shared her calculations and revelations with co-workers. Several of her co-workers were uncomfortable with these conversations and reported them to a supervisor, who gave the plaintiff a verbal warning not to discuss religion at work or face discipline, up to and including termination. Upset about the meeting, the plaintiff resigned at the end of the day, and filed a religious discrimination claim against her employer.

The court decided in favor of the employer, ruling that although the plaintiff wanted the right to have religious conversations with co-workers, these conversations were offensive and troubling to them and violated the hospital’s harassment policies. The court noted that any accommodation of the plaintiff would necessarily infringe on the rights of other employees, and ruled that she could not establish a claim for disparate treatment because she failed to show that she received treatment different from that of other employees in similar situations. The Court reasoned that she was not treated differently because of her religion, but because of how her religious beliefs and actions affected others.

For guidelines on dealing with religious discrimination issues in the workplace, download the Religious Accomodation Flow Chart.

Article courtesy of Worklaw® Network firm Shawe Rosenthal.