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EMPLOYMENT LAW UPDATE

Religious discrimination and pitfalls for diversity efforts

By Mike O’Brien

Religious discrimination

An Asian-American engineer who worked for a municipal utility in Stockton, California filed a lawsuit claiming that city officials belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the “Church”) sought to recruit, hire, and promote members of their own faith and that he was denied a promotion because he was a member of the Laotian Folk Religion. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit before trial, but a California appellate court reversed, ruling there was sufficient evidence of discriminatory motive for the religious bias claim to proceed to trial. The appellate court came to this conclusion even though the municipal utility employs a number of high-level employees who are not members of the Church and the position was ultimately filled by a person of a different faith. This was because the position was at first offered to a member of the Church. You can read the decision here.

Be careful how you diversify the workplace

In an effort to build better workplaces and attract top talent, many employers have implemented diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) programs. But employers need to be careful so they don’t unintentionally violate equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws as they seek to diversify their workforces. There has been an increase recently in lawsuits filed by employees claiming their job opportunities and compensation have been negatively impacted by DE&I programs. For example, a North Carolina jury recently awarded a white male $10 million in a discrimination lawsuit. The man said he was fired due to the company’s DE&I program and replaced by a black woman and a white woman.

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