As more employers conduct diversity, equity, and inclusion training, they increasingly face resistance from employees who claim that mandatory attendance at such training violates their religious beliefs. Last week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a religious discrimination claim from a New York state employee, but this decision may not provide employers with much clarity with respect to similar future lawsuits.
In Zdunski v. Erie 2-Chataqua Cattaraugus BOCES, the employer notified employees of mandatory LGBTQ anti-discrimination training. The plaintiff notified the employer that he would not attend the training due to his Christian beliefs, and requested that the employer require sensitivity training toward persons of faith. After several warnings, the employer terminated the plaintiff, and he sued, claiming that he was discriminated against due to his religion as prohibited under Title VII.
The Second Circuit affirmed dismissal of the claim. First, the court noted that under New York law, the training was required for public education workers. Next, the Second Circuit concluded that there was no evidence indicating that the employer discriminated against the plaintiff due to his religion. The training was scheduled months before the employer was aware of his objections, and he was treated the same as all other employees regardless of their religious beliefs.
Most workers are not legally obligated to attend this type of training. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in a case that may increase employers’ burden in defending a decision not to grant workplace religious accommodations. While the employer prevailed in this case, U.S. companies can expect an increasing number of religious accommodation requests relating to workplace issues that the employee claims are contrary to his or her religious beliefs.