Human Resources News & Insights

Skirts and Bibles: 2 fascinating new religious bias cases

Dress code issues and unwarranted religious expression in the workplace found these two employers in court — and led to two very different outcomes.

Skirt or no skirt?

As if Burger King didn’t already have enough to worry about, it’s now on the hook for $25,000 after agreeing to settle a religious bias claim.

A Pentecostal Christian woman was hired as a cashier for the restaurant chain, and she allegedly was told it was acceptable for her to wear a dress on the job. (The woman said she interprets scripture as saying that women should only wear dresses or skirts.)

But when the woman showed up for orientation, she said she was told she couldn’t wear the skirt and would have to leave. The woman went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sued on her behalf.

The franchisee who owned the store agreed to settle the case for $25,000 — $20,000 for claims of mental suffering and anguish, and $5,000 for wages.

The franchisee will also:

  • conduct training for managers on anti-discrimination laws, and
  • post its policy against religious bias on employee bulletin boards.

Can I keep my Bible on my desk or not?

The second case involved Kenneth Biernot, a clerk for the city of Chesapeake, VA, and his fondness for keeping his Bible on his desk.

The problem: The city had a policy prohibiting staffers from keeping private reading material on desks where city workers and members of the public met and worked.

So the city asked Biernot to remove the Bible from his desk by either putting it in a drawer or (interestingly) on the floor. He refused, so the city fired him.

Biernot turned around and filed suit, claiming he was fired for exercising “his right of religious expression.”

The city responded, saying it had done its best to balance Biernot’s rights of religious expression with its requirement to not favor one religion over another.

Biernot eventually dropped his lawsuit.

The takeaway’s clear, says William A. Schreiner, Jr., from Zuckerman Spaeder, LLP:

Biernot’s case reminds employers … of the need to have a sound policy on expression in the workplace that employees know and can understand. This can help cut short disputes of this type down the road.

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