Worker Receives Compensation for Religious Discrimination

August 22, 2000

Source: The Boston Globe

On August 22, 2000, The Boston Globe reported that in a "significant ruling on religious freedom in the workplace, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has upheld a 1996 decision awarding $300,000 to a Muslim man who was forced to stop praying at work...Lule Said of Quincy quit his job as a security guard for Northeast Security Inc. of Brookline in 1991 after he said he was ridiculed and harassed by fellow employees, one of whom trampled on his prayer rug and kicked it into a corner...Said, who then lived in Boston, was also ordered by company management not to pray during his 16-hour work shifts, even though Muslims are required to pray five times per day."

With increasing diversity in the workplace, "disputes over religious liberty on the job have increased 15 percent to 20 percent in the past five years, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency charged with investigating bias...In particular, Muslims, one of the country's fastest-growing religious groups, have filed numerous complaints in the courts and with government anti-bias agencies against employers for failing to accommodate their practices...In Said's case, Northeast Security had appealed the 1996 ruling by Commissioner Charles E. Walker to the full three-member commission. The commission asked Walker to review the damage award and to consider a 1997 state law requiring employers to accommodate the religious beliefs of employees. A new hearing was held April 26...In a ruling issued on Aug. 14, Walker upheld his original findings but allocated the award differently. He reduced damages for emotional distress caused by harassment and a "hostile work environment" from $300,000 to $250,000, but ordered the company to pay $50,000 in new damages for failing to accommodate Said's religion."

"This case uniquely demonstrates . . . the debilitating impact discrimination has on an individual's well-being," including a decline in self-worth, Walker wrote in his decision. "The resulting fear and demoralization of the employee, who is singled out, ridiculed, harassed, and ostracized . . . is exacerbated by management's complicity."