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Family Employers Face Similar Religious Discrimination Risks From Their Staff

Four flight attendants are suing Delta Airlines for discrimination after the employer allegedly took negative employment action against them for being Jewish or for associating with people of the Jewish faith.

One of the plaintiffs alleges the employer terminated her in 2017 because she is Jewish. She alleges that the reason given by the employer for termination—that she missed a flight—is not legitimate because she was on approved maternity leave at the time.

According to the lawsuit, Delta also suspended a second flight attendant without pay and revoked her travel privileges after she shared her travel companion pass with a Jewish friend.

The lawsuit alleges that the airline has "a pattern of intentionally discriminating and retaliating against ethnically Jewish, Hebrew, and/or Israeli employees and passengers." It further alleges that Delta created a "hostile" and "intimidating" environment during a flight from New York City to Israel.

The four plaintiffs allege managers made negative, stereotypical comments about Jewish and Israeli employees and passengers and failed to promote at least one employee for being Jewish. Ryan Sit "Delta Airlines Accused of Anti-Semitism and 'Discrimination' by Four Flight Attendants: Report," (Jan. 2, 2018).

Commentary and Checklist

Title VII’s prohibitions against workplace discrimination based on religion applies to employers with 15 or more employees; however, many state laws have anti-discrimination laws that apply to employers with a fewer number of employees.

Family employers may not terminate, discipline, refuse to hire, or otherwise take negative employment action against an applicant or staff person because of his or her religious affiliation, or association with a person of a particular religion. Religious harassment, including offensive remarks about a person's religious beliefs or practices, is also illegal.

Keep in mind these protections do not just apply to someone who practices a traditional religion like Judaism. Staff members are protected from discrimination based on any “sincerely held religious, ethical, or moral beliefs.”

Never ask applicants or staff about their religions because doing so can make it appear that you will make employment decisions based on religion. It is a best practice to avoid any conversations with staff that involve religion, and to train your managers to do the same.

Train managers and staff to never make stereotypical or negative comments about any religion, and make sure to avoid criticizing or promoting a religion yourself. If you engage in personal religious practices, do so away from staff, and never pressure staff to participate.

Here are some tips for family employers to prevent charges of religious discrimination:

  • Do not treat staff or applicants more or less favorably because of their religious beliefs or practices, or lack thereof, except when a religious accommodation is warranted.
  • Staff cannot be forced to participate, or not participate, in a religious activity as a condition of employment.
  • Create a policy prohibiting discrimination or harassment based on religion, and train managers and staff annually on your policy.
  • Implement an effective procedure for reporting and investigating religious harassment or discrimination.
  • If a staff member requests an religious accommodation, and you think it may case hardship, consult legal counsel to determine to what extent accommodation is required.
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