How common is job discrimination on the basis of religion?

In the land of the free and the home of the brave it might be hard to imagine there’s a need for a law that makes it illegal to discriminate against qualified candidates for a job. Considering how many business owners complain about how hard it is to find qualified workers, you might think that when they find prime candidates that they would snatch them up.

Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works. We all have our biases. And where we have opportunities to exercise them, we probably do. So anti-discrimination laws exist and one of the most important is the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. One of the most significant provisions of that law is Title VII which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or nationality.

Up-to-date California readers likely are aware that this particular element of the law is the foundation of a case that before the U.S. Supreme Court. At the heart of the argument heard last week is a Muslim woman’s claim she was denied a job as a sales person for clothing retailer Abercrombie and Fitch because of her religion.

She was wearing a religious headscarf at the time of her interview and the company said the reason she didn’t get the job is because the scarf violated its dress code for workers. But it also admits that it knew she was wearing it for religious reasons.

The question that the high court is being asked to answer is whether the woman or the company was responsible for addressing whether religious accommodation might be needed. Lower courts have split on that call. It’s not clear when a ruling might come.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission notes that it received more than 3,500 complaints in fiscal 2014 about alleged religious discrimination. The agency’s website says that’s lower than in the past few years, but still a lot higher than was the case prior to fiscal 2007. Settlements were reached in about 300 cases last fiscal year.

Victims of discrimination in hiring or firing need to know they have protections by virtue of Title VII. But putting the law to work may depend on a victim acting first by contacting an attorney who is prepared to help.

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