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EEOC Sues Employer for Mandatory Bible Study Meetings

    Client Alerts
  • October 04, 2017

From time to time, we encounter businesses described by their owners as managed and operated under Christian principles. The owners explain that they use their personal faith to guide their business decisions, including decisions that impact their employees. While there are no legal restrictions on the use of such business philosophies, in some situations the owners’ personal religious beliefs can result in conflicts because of employees’ differing views.

Last month, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced that it has sued a Texas medical practice on behalf of a Buddhist employee who claims that she and other employees were retaliated against and eventually terminated because they requested to be excused from participating in pre-work Bible studies. The EEOC alleges that the employer conducted mandatory staff meetings that included readings of Bible verses and discussion about how those verses impact employees’ lives and work.

Employers are not required to remove religion form the workplace, and attempts to do so can result in religious accommodation claims from employees. There are no legal prohibitions on employers allowing employees, including managers, to conduct Bible study on their work premises during breaks or outside of working time. However, the EEOC’s lawsuit is based on claims that in this instance the religious study was mandatory, and that employees who declined to participate faced negative employment consequences.

Even companies run according to the owners’ religious principles cannot require adherence to religious beliefs or practices as a term and condition of employment. In its upcoming term, the U.S. Supreme Court is slated to hear arguments in a case brought by a bakery that refused to provide a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. The appellants in that case argue that state laws prohibiting discrimination in providing business services violate their First Amendment free speech rights. Even if the appellants in that case prevail, it is unlikely that any Supreme Court decision would extend that logic to override state or federal employment discrimination laws.