Workplace Discrimination Claims On the Rise

January 28, 2009

Author: G. Jeffrey MacDonald

Source: Religion News Service

Complaints of religious discrimination in the workplace are on the rise, but civil rights advocates say that may not be such a bad thing.

That's because a likely reason for a steady rise in reported incidents has nothing to do with intolerant corporate cultures but rather religious minorities who are more aware of their rights and more willing to exercise them.

"Before, somebody might have prayed kind of quietly at work and hoped nobody would stop them and didn't really want to ask permission," says Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). "Now they state openly: `Yes, I'd like permission. Is there an open room where I could pray?"'

Between 1992 and 2007, claims of religious discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission more than doubled, from 1,388 to 2,880. Among the contributing factors: a growing U.S. population and tensions precipitated by an increasingly diverse workforce.

But recent years have also ushered in a new era of assertiveness, especially among members of minority faiths that require specific codes of dress, diet or behavior, according to David Miller, director of Princeton University's Faith & Work Initiative.

"They're not the kind of complaints you would have seen 10 or 15 years ago," Miller says.

In analyzing EEOC claims, Miller finds relatively few incidents of religious bullying, such as proselytizing managers who insist all employees attend Bible study sessions. More commonly, he sees cases in which employees demand a right to religious expression on the job. Muslims petition for breaks to pray at appointed times of day, for instance, or Seventh-day Adventists seek Saturdays off to honor their Sabbath.