Employment discrimination laws would not be very effective if employers could simply fire or punish any employee who dared to file a complaint. This is why federal and New York laws prohibit “retaliation” against an employee (or potential employee) who engages in a protected activity, such as filing a discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or seeking a reasonable accommodation for a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
What Constitutes Illegal Retaliation in the Workplace?
To bring a retaliation claim against your employer, you generally need to show four things:
- You engaged in a “protected activity”;
- Your employer was aware of the protected activity;
- You suffered a “materially adverse action” from your employer; and
- You can demonstrate a “causal connection” between your protective activity and the adverse action.
A simple example of retaliation would be asking your employer for Sundays off to attend church and the employer turning around and firing you. Not all retaliation claims are so simple, of course. Here is a more complicated example from an ongoing employment discrimination case in upstate New York.
The plaintiff here worked as a firefighter and paramedic for the defendant. He is also a practicing member of the Nazirite religion. The Nazarites' beliefs include a vow not to cut one's hair. Accordingly, the plaintiff informed his supervisor of his need for a reasonable accommodation, as the fire department's uniform regulations normally required personnel to follow certain grooming standards that conflicted with Nazarite practice.
In response, the plaintiff alleged he was “threatened with disciplinary action” on multiple occasions if he did not cut his hair. Specifically, the plaintiff was told he would be “relieved of duty.” The plaintiff further claimed an assistant chief with the fire department “interrogated” him about his religious beliefs and at one point declared Nazarite beliefs “anti-establishment.” A supervisor even told the plaintiff in a letter that he was being investigated for the sincerity of his beliefs and “if it is determined you are not a Nazarite or have in fact never been a Nazarite, disciplinary action may also occur as a result of any deception.”
The plaintiff eventually sued the defendant for religious discrimination and retaliation. The judge presiding over the case recently denied the defendant's motion to dismiss the retaliation claim. As the judge explained, at this stage of the litigation the plaintiff had sufficiently alleged the four elements of retaliation. Notably, “the order for Plaintiff to cut his hair occurred only four days after the accommodation request, which is temporally proximate enough to show causation.”
Have You Been Punished at Work Because of Your Religion?
Religious discrimination laws protect all sincerely held beliefs, not just those organized sects that are considered “mainstream.” No employer has the right to question or mock your beliefs or refuse a request for reasonable accommodation for religious practices. If your employer has discriminated against you based on religion or retaliated you for simply expressing your desire for accommodation, you need to speak with a qualified New York employment law attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar today if you need immediate legal assistance.