Recently, 11 former employees of DHL Global Mail in Kentucky, and soon as many as 24 total, filed complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claiming that they were fired for praying on the job. All 24 employees are or were Muslim immigrants from Somalia. The employees filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, requesting damages, reinstatement where appropriate, and policy changes.
The problems began this past October, when there was a change in office policy that removed the flexible break policy that had been in place. The DHL Muslim employees had used that time to step out of the office and pray. Once the policy was reversed, however, the employees had no options, and ended up voluntarily taking time off of the clock. The 24 Muslims who worked in the mail room stepped outside at 7:24 p.m. and gathered to pray, separated by gender. The supervisor then called three of the employees in for an explanation, later calling the police to ensure that the employees left without causing a scene.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a number of classifications are protected from discrimination, including race, national origin, color, gender, and religion. Employers are required to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices unless doing so would pose “more than a minimum burden” on the business. Among the examples of reasonable accommodations that the EEOC lists are flexible schedules, voluntary shift substitutions, job reassignments, and modifications to workplace policies.
Most people believe that if they have suffered discrimination, they can immediately file a lawsuit in court. In fact, if they were discriminated against in one of the above categories (or for age or disability), they generally need to exhaust their administrative remedies first. That means filing a complaint with the EEOC or with the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights if your employer has fewer than 15 employees (but more than eight). An investigator may then take up to a year to thoroughly investigate your claim before determining whether further action is needed. If the agency finds that your claim is not worth pursuing, it will dismiss your case and provide you with a “right to sue” letter, which clears your path for filing a lawsuit in federal or state court.
Having your case dismissed by an agency does not mean your case has no merit; many employees who have filed in court have had success. Of those who pursue a claim in court, many prefer to file in Kentucky state court because there is no cap on damages for emotional pain and suffering. However, just because you feel that you were unjustly treated at work does not mean that you were discriminated against — to have a viable discrimination case, you must have been discriminated against for belonging to one of the enumerated categories above. Just belonging to one of those categories alone is not enough to have a discrimination claim — your treatment must be connected to your race, or your gender, or religion, et cetera. That is not always easy to prove, which is why if you believe that you discriminated against at work, you should consider speaking with a Kentucky employment discrimination attorney to find out more.
Miller & Falkner is a plaintiffs law firm serving residents of Kentucky and Indiana. Located in Louisville, Kentucky, the firm provides representation in the areas of personal injury and employment law. Contact us today for a free consultation.