Religious Beliefs and Discrimination Under Title VII

She Was Fired Because Employer Decided Her Religious Belief was Not Sincere

Aug 17, 2023

Thank you for clicking through to learn more about the interesting case involving a woman who was fired because she refused the COVID-19 vaccination.  Here are some key facts about this case.

  •  Large company with employees in every state
  • Employee had been employed for over 20 years, as had her husband
  • Husband suffered stroke at work before COVID and was disabled
  • Company established mandatory vaccination requirement for ALL positions whether in-person contact was required or not
  • Plaintiff did her job remotely from onset of COVID until she was fired
  • The position Plaintiff held has been fully remote ever since
  • Company set up a process for employees to request religious exemptions for the vaccination requirement
  • Company processed over 3,000 requests for exemption and granted about 2/3 of them
  • Plaintiff submitted an application which, among other things, stated: “I have no objection to the vaccine, I just want to wait until the FDA approves it.”


Applicable Law

To quickly summarize the applicable law, a plaintiff alleging religious discrimination must allege facts that plausibly demonstrate: (1) plaintiff holds a sincere religious belief, the practice of which conflicted with an employment duty; (2) plaintiff informed the employer of that belief and conflict; and (3) the employer threatened the employee with or subjected the employee to discriminatory treatment, including discharge, because of an inability to fulfill the job requirements. Once a plaintiff has made a prima facie showing, the burden shifts to the defendant to show that it initiated good faith efforts to accommodate reasonably the employee’s religious practices or that it could not reasonably accommodate the employee without undue hardship.


What Happened at Mediation?

In the case I mediated, the employer never reached the issue of accommodation because it concluded, based on the plaintiff’s application, that the employee’s belief was not “sincere.” The employer moved for summary judgment which the court denied in a very brief order.  This is not surprising as “issues such as the sincerity of an employee’s religious belief are quintessential fact questions.” E.E.O.C. v. Union Independiente de la Autoridad de Acueductos y Alcantarillados de Puerto Rico, 279 F.3d 49, 56 (1st Cir. 2002).  Nevertheless, the employer in question had convinced judges in other jurisdictions that an employee’s belief was not “sincere” based on the employee’s own words.


Mediation Can Help Resolve Tough Cases

After a long day of mediation, I was able to help the parties come to an agreement which allowed the plaintiff to move on with her life and focus on caring for her disabled husband while allowing the employer to avoid testing its policy of evaluating the sincerity of an employee’s religious belief in front of a Los Angeles jury.

Do you have a case involving religious beliefs?  These are tough cases where mediation can be even more beneficial than in lawsuits involving less personal issues.  Please let us know if we can be of assistance.

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