Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to accommodate employee religious beliefs in the absence of undue hardship. Last week, the Belk department stores settled a lawsuit filed on behalf of a former Belk employee in Raleigh who alleged that she was terminated for refusing to wear a Santa hat as part of a Christmas promotion. The plaintiff said that as a Jehovah's Witness, her religious beliefs prohibit her from recognizing or celebrating religious holidays.
Belk agreed to pay $55,000 to settle the claim, and to take remedial steps to educate managers with respect to religious accommodation obligations. Employers should be aware, and communicate to supervisors that even seemingly innocuous dress and other requirements may trigger issues with employees' religious beliefs that require an accommodation analysis prior to any disciplinary action being taken.