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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Religious Discrimination in Employment Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Cynthia Brougher
Legislative Attorney

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. It prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of their religious beliefs and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees’ religious practices. Title VII defines religion broadly and relies on an individual’s subjective understanding of his or her beliefs, which may result in broad protections for employees with sincerely held beliefs.

Congress has recognized that restrictions on employment decisions by religious employers may interfere with the employer’s religious practice. As a result, Title VII includes exemptions for religious entities, allowing qualifying employers to consider religion in hiring decisions. Such an exemption allows the religious organization to hire individuals who share the same beliefs as the employer. However, Congress did not define which organizations would qualify for exemption from Title VII and courts have not established a definitive standard. If an organization does qualify for exemption and therefore is allowed to consider religion in employment decisions, it is not permitted to base employment decisions on other prohibited factors under Title VII.

In addition to prohibiting discrimination in employment decisions, Title VII requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for current employees’ religious practices. Reasonable accommodations may include scheduling adjustments or reassignment to other comparable positions that would not interfere with the employee’s religious exercise. The employer is not required to make such an accommodation, however, if doing so would pose an undue hardship on the employer’s business or operations.

This report reviews the scope of Title VII’s prohibition on religious discrimination and its exemptions for religious organizations. It analyzes which organizations may qualify for exemption and also explains the related constitutional protection known as the ministerial exception that often arises in the context of Title VII claims. Finally, the report examines Title VII’s accommodations requirement, noting what accommodations may be required and which may be declined as an undue hardship to the employer.

Date of Report: January 17, 2013
Number of Pages: 10
Order Number: RS22745
Price: $29.95

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